HALLANDALE, FL – The last time Gulfstream Park fans saw Rule, the son of Roman Ruler did his best to live up to their expectations in the Florida Derby (G1) last March, only to grudgingly fade to third as their favorite after pressing a fast early pace and holding a two-length lead in mid-stretch.

Trainer Todd Pletcher sent Rule to Churchill Downs for an anticipated start in the Kentucky Derby, but the WinStar Farm’s homebred colt was withdrawn from consideration for the Run for the Roses when he didn’t train well.

“We just gave him some time off. We didn’t feel like he was thriving coming into the Derby and we were running out of time for the summer races,” Pletcher said Thursday morning at the Palm Meadows training center. “There was no major reason for it other than he wasn’t where we wanted to be.”

Rule has apparently benefited greatly from his long vacation, having been entered in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3).

“He’s been training very well. It’s his first start since the Florida Derby, so it’s not ideal conditions to come back against a horse with the quality of Morning Line,” said Pletcher, referring to Trainer Nick Zito’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up and morning-line favorite. “But, by the same token, we’re ready to go and we need to get the season started.”

Pletcher is hopeful that Rule, who had a four-race winning streak snapped in the Florida Derby, will be able to get a crack at winning Gulfstream Park’s featured race for older horses, the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) on Feb. 5.

“We’ll see how he does in the Hal’s Hope and bring him back to Palm Meadows,” Pletcher said. “If he can make the Donn Handicap, we’d be happy.”

Meanwhile, Pletcher, last year’s leading trainer at Gulfstream, has some exciting candidates for this year’s $1 million Florida Derby, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2010 2-year-old champion-in-waiting, Uncle Mo, and his stablemate Stay Thirsty. Both colts are owned by the Repole Stable.

“Uncle Mo has come back in excellent shape so far. He’s had a good week of galloping,” said Pletcher, not ready to make a definite decision about where his undefeated colt will make his first 2011 start. “Stay Thirsty is on the same program as Uncle Mo. He started back at the same time, and we’re going to play it by ear with him. Obviously, there’s common ownership, so he’ll be going in a different direction than Uncle Mo.”

Pletcher has made definite plans for R Heat Lightning. The runner-up to Awesome Feather in the Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs last November, is on scheduled to make her first 2011 start in the $200,000 Forward Gal (G2) on Jan. 30.

Never Retreat Ships from Fair Grounds for Marshua’s River

Team Block’s widely-traveled 5-year-old mare Never Retreat has shipped into Gulfstream Park from Fair Grounds in New Orleans for trainer Chris Block to run in Sunday’s $100,000 Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles on turf after campaigning at six different racetracks while posting three wins and three seconds in nine starts last year.

“We had her entered in a race at Fair Grounds that got forced off turf, so we shipped her over there and stay,” said Block Wednesday morning from Springfield, Ill. where he is with other horsemen at the state capital in support of slots legislation for racing.

A Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike, Never Retreat finished first in the Furl Sail Handicap at Fair Grounds to begin the season last year, but was disqualified to second, won and allowance at Arlington Park in late May, the Lady Canterbury Stakes in July, Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf at Kentucky Downs in September and finished second by a nose last out in the River Memories Stakes at Woodbine on Oct. 30.

Team Block also has another highly-accomplished turf stakes mare stabled at Gulfstream this season in 5-year-old Askbut I Won’ttell, who has already made her mark in South Florida this season, shipping into Calder from Kentucky to win the My Charmer Handicap (G3) on Dec. 4.

The Florida-bred daughter of Horse Chestnut had won the Cardinal Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 7 and is being pointed to the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf to be run at 1 1/8 miles on Sat., Jan. 29. She breezed a half-mile here last Friday in 48 1/5.

Block is maintaining a small division at Gulfstream for the first time this season and another at Fair Grounds, and in addition to the two turf stakes mares, he has Virginia Tarra Trust’s 5-year-old Giant Oak at Gulfstream preparing for another campaign.

The chestnut horse by Giant’s Causeway breezed an easy half-mile in 49 flat Tuesday morning in his first recorded workout since finishing second by a head in the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs, but place first on the disqualification of Successful Dan.

Giant Oak had finished fifth as the lukewarm favorite in the roughly-run, $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (G3) at Churchill in his previous start, following runner-up efforts when beaten less than a length in both the Washington Park Handicap (G3) at Arlington and Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2).

Shadow Warrior & Black N Beauty Likely Choices in Friday Feature

G. Watts Humphrey, Jr.’s Shadow Warrior and Zayat Stable’s Black N Beauty each posted impressive maiden special weight victories last out at Churchill Downs a week apart in November, and will be among the favorites in a field of nine 3-year-olds set for Friday’s $51,500 ‘a other than’ allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

Jockey Julien Leparoux rides Shadow Warrior for trainer Rusty Arnold in the one-mile test and Kent Desormeaux will be aboard Black N Beauty in a race likely to produce a contender for the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) over the track and one-mile distance on Sun., Jan. 3.

Shadow Warrior is a regally-bred A.P. Indy colt out of Test Stakes (G1) winner Victory Ride and drew clear to win a one-mile maiden race at Churchill on Nov. 19 by three lengths in his second start following a fourth-place debut at Keeneland when beaten only three-quarters of a length for it all by the winner.

Black N Beauty is a Canadian-bred colt by Devil His Due purchased for a modest $2,500 at the Keeneland September yearling sales and drew off to score by 2 ¾ lengths going 6 ½ furlongs at Churchill on Nov. 12 in his third career start following a fourth-place debut at Belmont Park in September and close-up second there in mid-October.

The intriguing field drawn for Friday’s feature also includes maiden winners from Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, Calder, Ellis Park and Canterbury Downs.