By most accounts, it has been successful, with early December opening numbers a lot more perky than April post-Florida Derby figures. I had my doubts; I was misinformed.
And so Saturday we’ll get two-two features in one. From the looks of things both the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and the G3 Fort Lauderdale could be used as preps for the G1 Donn on Feb. 11.
In both cases, the prepsters will be stretching out to nine furlongs but in the case of the Fort Lauderdale, it will require a surface switch from turf to dirt. There’s a lot of mixing and matching going on here, making these two interesting betting races, a.k.a. traps.
The very earnest Soaring Empire (4-1) will be looking for his second straight Hal’s Hope and while he has had some post position peculiarities, post 7 in a field of nine going a flat mile is perfect.
“He’s matured,” said trainer Cam Gambolati. “He just walked into the gate in [his] last two races at Monmouth.” So that’s not the problem for the surface lover. The problem is the super-fast Jackson Bend (2-1).
When last seen, that newly turned 5-year-old was a good late-run third to Amazombie in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Prior to that, he was an excellent second to Uncle Mo in a muddy one-turn mile that went in 1:33.8.
Jackson Bend, who drew the dreaded pole out of the mile chute, will be kept around one turn for the most part this year trainer Nick Zito said earlier this week.
Plans change, of course, but that certainly seems the prudent tack. Based on his Equiform performance figures, running the race is just a formality.
Of course, it is.
“He looks tremendous,” Zito also said. “I just hope it’s not too tough a race first time back. It’s good race to come back in, and that’s what he needs.”
Especially if he runs lights out; the temptation just might be to try the Donn. While 7 furlongs to a mile is his best go, her certainly has the ability and class to get 9 furlongs
Successful Mission and Sangaree are the other two serious Hal’s Hope contenders at 3-1 and 6-1, respectively.
Now, one would expect that Scooter Dickey to feel the same way about the Hal’s Hope that Zito does. Instead, he will ask Flat Out to make his turf debut in the Fort Lauderdale, a surface for which he’s not particularly well bred.
“We worked him on the turf at Churchill last spring and he handled it just fine,” Dickey said. “We want to try him on the turf and the timing is right to get to the Donn Handicap. If we ran him in the Sunshine Millions [in two weeks], it would probably be too quick back.”
Like Dickey, the connections of Uptowncharlybrown have also been anxious to try the turf, too, no doubt thinking the sprinter/miler type the go a little farther on the weeds. He’s bred better for it than Flat Out, although the linemaker seems unimpressed (15-1).
The serious Fort Lauderdale horses, in terms of surface and prevailing conditions, are Silver Medallion and Teaks North. That was until Bill Mott dropped the name of Mutual Trust (3-1) into the entry box.
The Juddmonte import has been hacking around at Payson Park since early November and it’s a tough read on his level of condition. This certainly cannot be a serious winter objective.
A multiple winner of four straight in France including a Group 3 and the G1 Jean Prat, he certainly has demonstrated ability but this is a salty group—no pun intended—if he doesn’t have his Air Nikes on.
A price shot with a puncher’s chance is Santiva (20-1) a Triple Crown trailer at 3 before returning to turf at Gulfstream Dec. 11, his second grass go. It was his first start since June. At 2, he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and was second in Mucho Macho Man’s Risen Star last year before trying the classic colts.
“You’d like to think Santiva would be a Donn horse or the other race on turf [Gulfstream Park Turf]. Two runs on the turf would be a good preparation for the Donn, as well as the Turf,” said trainer Brendan Walsh, former assistant to Eddie Kenneally.