HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Round one of Gulfstream Park's filly and mare sprint series went to Tar Heel Mom in a tight decision over Hilda's Passion in the six-furlong, Grade 3 Sugar Swirl. Round two goes Sunday when Tar Heel Mom and Hilda's Passion square off again, this time at 6 1/2 furlongs, in the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie.
Tar Heel Mom, who finished second twice and third while dancing all three dances in the sprint series here a year ago, got the early jump on Hilda's Passion in the Sugar Swirl when she rallied just inside and a couple of lengths in front of her chief rival entering the stretch. That advantage ultimately proved the difference as Tar Heel Mom, with jockey Alan Garcia aboard, held gamely to withstand the Todd Pletcher-trained Hilda's Passion to win by a slowly diminishing neck.
"It appeared a couple of more jumps and Todd's filly might have gotten by us but Alan said 'Mom' galloped out strong and the other filly never did get by," said Stanley Hough, who trains Tar Heel Mom for Alex Rankin.
Tar Heel Mom began inside Hilda's Passion in the Sugar Swirl but will break outside, from post 6, in Sunday's rematch with her chief rival drawn on the rail.
"I like the post and being outside our main competition," said Hough. "It's hard to predict who might be in front in this field, our filly could even possibly go to the lead, although I would be very happy to be in a stalking position again."
Hilda's Passion was reserved after breaking alertly from post 10 in the Sugar Swirl, got hung widest into the stretch, then finished gamely once straightened away to narrowly miss while making her first start since capturing Keeneland's Grade 2 Raven Run nearly three months earlier. Hilda's Passion has been on or with the lead after the opening quarter-mile in each of her four career victories and from the rail may have little choice but to use similar tactics in Sunday's rematch.
The Hurricane Bertie is anything but a match race, however, with the field also including the Grade 2 winner My Jen, who rallied to upset Belmont's Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap early last fall. My Jen did not fare as well in her 3-year-old finale when she tired badly after an eventful trip, finishing far back in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.