Gift Box ready to unwrap second half in 3-year-old division

May 26th, 2016

W.S. Farish’s Gift Box was sidelined early this year before he could hop on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail in earnest, but judging by his terrific comeback in Belmont’s 8TH race on Thursday, he’ll have something to say in a big summer for the 3-year-old set.

Third to Mohaymen in the Remsen (G2) when last seen in November, Gift Box was expected to make his sophomore debut in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. But the Chad Brown trainee unfortunately encountered a setback and disappeared from the worktab for a couple of months over the winter. The time off has done him a world of good.

Gift Box was sent off as the 9-5 second choice in the 1 1/16-mile allowance, with 6-5 favoritism going to Gettysburg, who had been exposed in the spring preps. Gettysburg was fifth to Destin in the Sam F. Davis (G3), runner-up to Collected at Sunland, and fifth after apparently ensuring a fast pace for Creator in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Also entered in the Sir Barton on the Preakness (G1) undercard, Gettysburg was instead rerouted here, giving a useful form line as a measure.

As Gettysburg forced the pace set by 22-1 Dixie Runner through splits of :23.88 and :47.29 on the fast track, Gift Box was reserved on the outside in sixth. Regular rider Javier Castellano had him advance into fourth at the six-furlong mark in 1:11.49.

Despite taking the overland route four wide into the stretch, Gift Box was traveling much more readily than Gettysburg and the rest. The gray struck the front and quickened smartly, opening up through a mile in 1:35.22. He reeled off his final sixteenth in :6.20, widening his advantage to 4 1/2 lengths and crossed the wire in 1:41.42.

Realm rolled past Gettysburg to take second, while pacesetter Dixie Runner faded to fifth.

Gift Box’s record now reads 4-2-0-2, $135,500. In his debut sprinting at Saratoga, he got off to a troubled start but recovered to finish third to Sheikh of Sheikhs, the eventual Juvenile Dirt Sprint winner, and Portfolio Manager, the next-out third in the Champagne (G1) (and still a maiden). Gift Box came right back to break his maiden in an off-the-turf event at this track and trip, edging Matt King Coal (fourth in the Wood Memorial [G1] in his latest).

While Gift Box would need to step up off his juvenile form, I’d argue that he did that on Thursday, not only by the bare result, but by his serious injection of pace down the stretch. Better still, his pedigree offers the promise of more to come. He’s from the first crop of the versatile Twirling Candy, who came into his own later at three and four. Moreover, Gift Box is a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 vixen Stonetastic, who was no more than a useful juvenile, but has subsequently developed into a top female sprinter.

Gift Box’s ideal distance remains to be determined, but I wouldn’t judge him by Stonetastic. After all, she’s by Mizzen Mast and thereby bred along very similar lines to Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) winner Our New Recruit. The union of Gift Box’s sire Twirling Candy and dam Special Me, an Unbridled’s Song mare, presents a different profile, including inbreeding to Fappiano.

Hopefully, Gift Box will have another crack at Mohaymen down the road at Saratoga, and a belated opportunity to test the waters against champion Nyquist and Exaggerator. In the meantime, you’d have to think that the July 9 Dwyer (G2) may be on the itinerary.

Bred by Machmer Hall and Carrie and Craig Brogden, Gift Box was sold for $135,000 as a weanling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November. Interestingly, Farish stands Twirling Candy at his Lane’s End, so you know he’ll be given every chance to promote his hot young sire.