HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - WinStar Farm’s Rule, prominent on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail early last year, and Thoroughbred Racing Stable’s Morning Line, second by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs in November, are set to make their 4-year-old season debuts as the likely favorites in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Handicap (G3) Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Jockey John R. Velazquez was the regular rider of Rule last year for trainer Todd Pletcher and retains the mount in Saturday’s one-mile test, his first start since finishing third as the favorite behind Ice Box and Pleasant Prince in the Florida Derby (G1) here on Mar. 20.

A Kentucky homebred chestnut colt by Roman Ruler, Rule won the rich Delta Jackpot (G3) as a 2-year-old and was very impressive winning the Sam Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs by three lengths in mid-February in his lone start before the Florida Derby and hasn’t raced since then.

Jockey Javier Castellano was aboard Morning Line in his heart-breaking Breeders’ Cup defeat behind longshot Dakota Phone after leading by 1 ½ lengths in mid-stretch. Trained by Nick Zito, the son of Tiznow scored his biggest victory in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Philadelphia Park in his previous start in late September.

Certain to attract support in the field of seven older horses drawn for the Hal’s Hope is owner-trainer Luis Olivares’ 4-year-old Tackleberry with jockey Javier Santiago in the saddle as he bids for a fifth consecutive victory, most recently scoring a nose victory in the Fred Hooper Handicap (G3) at Calder on Dec. 11.

Olivares purchased Tackleberry privately as a 2-year-old from breeder Ocala Stud and he didn’t make his career debut until July this summer at Calder, finishing fourth. The son Florida-bred son of Montbrook has won five of seven since, finishing second in the other two starts.

Completing the field for the Hal’s Hope are Ione and Herb Elkins’ Dream Maestro, John Velazquez; Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s Soaring Empire, Jose Lezcano; Jacks or Better Farm’s Hear Ye Hear Ye, Jeffrey Sanchez; and LMR Stable’s Caixa Eletronia, Luis Saez.

Quality Road won the Hal’s Hope last year ahead of his stunning victory in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) for Pletcher and Saturday’s renewal will likely yield a contender or two for the nine-furlong Donn to be run on Sat., Feb. 5 this year.


‘Gangster’ & Grande Shores Lead Cast for Spectacular Bid

Marco Thoroughbred Corp. and trainer Wesley Ward’s Gangsterontherun and Jacks or Better Farm’s Grande Shores were very impressive maiden winners last out at Parx Racing (Philadelphia Park) and Calder Race Course, respectively, and lead a wide-open field of nine young prospects making their 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Jockey Alex Solis has ridden Gangsterontherun in both of his starts for Ward and has the return call. The City Zip gelding finished second in his debut at Saratoga on a ‘muddy’ track on Aug. 5 when well-backed at a little more than 4-to-1 and came back at Parx on Sept. 6 to romp home a nine-length winner as the 13-to-10 favorite.

Regular rider Jeffrey Sanchez rides Grand Shores for trainer Stanley Gold after the Florida homebred drew off to break his maiden by 6 ¾ lengths at Calder on Dec. 27 as the 11-to-10 favorite in his first start since Aug. 7. A son of Black Mambo, Grande Shores was unlucky not to have won a race before the maiden score as he had finished second in four of five previous starts and lost his rider shortly after the break in his only other appearance.

A half-brother to Jacks or Betters’ highly-accomplished Jackson Bend, Grand Shores finished a game second by a half-length in the $75,000 Dr. Fager Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder in the Aug. 7 race won by Gourmet Dinner, who would go on to win the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G3) in late November.

Another contender likely to attract support is Wind River Stable’s Cane Garden Bay with Julien Leparoux aboard for trainer Rusty Arnold. The son of Rockport Harbor turns back in distance from as fifth-place finish in the nine-furlong Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27.

In two sprint start prior to the Kentucky Jockey Club, Cane Garden Bay just missed when second by a head in his debut at Saratoga on Sept. 2 and broke his maiden in his second start going seven furlongs at Keeneland on Oct. 16.

Completing the field for the Spectacular Bid are Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s Winchill, John. R. Velazquez; Sherry Parboo’s Wildcat Formation, J.L. Alvarez; Asioa Trading Corp.’s War for Gus, Kent Desorme3aux; Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Leave of Absence, Rajiv Maragh; GZS Stable’s Dual Exhaust, Elvis Trujillo; and Monarch Stable’s Determinato, Eibar Coa.