By Jim Freer
The many bettors who overlooked Bonita received a big surprise when she charged from last place entering the stretch and won Sunday’s $50,000 Panama City Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
Bonita, at 9-1, won by a length over Josdesanimaux, at 5-2, in the one-mile turf race for Florida-bred fillies and mares 3-years-old and up. With Edgard Zayas riding, Bonita covered the distance in 1:36.26 on the course listed as firm.
The victory was the first in a stakes race for Bonita, a 4-year-old daughter of Bluegrass Cat. It was the first stakes win for Bonita’s owner Mario Silva, who lives in Nebraska, said Bonita’s trainer Chad Stewart.
The Panama City was not on Gulfstream’s original schedule for its summer meet. It was one of the numerous overnight stakes that Gulfstream, amid rising summer handle, has added on Saturdays and Sundays.
“These races are great, and I expect we will see more of them,” Stewart said. “They are good opportunities for horses like her (Bonita).”
Stewart added: “She is not a horse that will travel. But these races give you a reason to stay here with a horse that you might ship north for a race. ”
Bonita was sent off at the third highest odds in the eight-horse Panama City field
At the half mile point, those 9-1 odds looked appropriate for Bonita. She was eight lengths behind Justa Jill who had set moderate fractions of 24:80 and 49:15.
Bonita was not close enough to the lead to be on the TV monitors. Among the horses ahead of her were fellow late runners Josdesanimaux and My Girl Corey—the two betting favorites from the powerful barn of Ralph Nicks.
“I was concerned then (half mile), because she usually needs a pace to run at,” Stewart said in the winner’s circle.
However, Zayas was confident that Bonita could catch most if not all of the horses in front of her.
“Edgard just told me that she was keen to go at five-eighths (marker), but he waited until three-eighths,” Stewart said.
Imperial Secret, at 18-1, finished third. She was three-quarters of a length behind Josdesanimaux. The 2-1 favorite My Girl Corey came in fourth, a neck behind Imperial Secret.
Early leader Justa Jill, at 101-1, faded and finished last.
The results table, below, shows the high exotic bet payoffs for the Panama City.
Bonita’s time of 1:36.26 was moderate for a one-mile turf stakes at Gulfstream. She earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 90, which is modest for an overnight stakes.
The win was the fourth in 15 career starts and first in six starts at Gulfstream gor Bonita.
In her two most recent races, Bonita finished sixth in the $75,000 Christmas Past Stakes on turf at Gulfstream on May 27 and fifth in the $100,000 Distaff Turf Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on April 2. Both races were 1 1/16 miles and restricted to Florida-breds.
Those results were probably the main reason that Bonita was 9-1 in the Panama City.
But some bettors might have noticed that Bonita earned a career-best 99 Equibase figure in the Christmas Past. That tied her with Josdesanimaux for the best “last out” Equibase number..
Prior to those two stakes races, Bonita won a $32,000 optional claimer at Tampa Bay on Feb.12 and a one-mile $22,500 allowance at Tampa Bay on Jan. 31. Both were one mile on turf in ten-horse fields.
In keeping with Stewart’s schedule, Bonita has been racing at Tampa Bay during its meet and at Gulfstream the rest of the year.
Stewart trains his horses at the Hunter Farm Training Center in Ocala, and vans them to race at Gulfstream, Gulfstream Park West (Calder) or Tampa Bay.
Bonita is a daughter of Bluegrass Cat and is out of the Broad Brush mare Broad Picture.
Bonita was bred by Arindel Farm in Ocala. Silva bought her for $25,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s April 2015 sale.
A review of Equibase data shows that Silva has owned several other Florida-breds that have raced primarily at tracks in midwestern states.
The Panama City capped a landmark weekend for Zayas, a 24-year-old native of Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, he won his 1,000th career race in North America—aboard Highborn in the sixth race at Gulfstream.
Zayas ended Sunday with 1,003 career wins.
He has 39 wins at the Gulfstream summer meet, placing him second to Tyler Gaffalione who has 46.
Zayas is first in earnings for the summer meet, that will end on Sept. 30. His mounts have won $1,177,500. Gaffalione is second in earnings with $1,157,490.
Panama City Handicap
6 – BONITA 21.20 9.20 4.80
8 – JOSDESANIMAUX 4.20 3.20
3 – IMPERIAL SECRET 8.40
$2 EXACTA 6-8 PAID $78.20; $2 TRIFECTA 6-8-3 PAID $1,314.80; 10 CENT SUPERFECTA 6-8-3-4 PAID $191.37.