Edited Gulfstream Staff Release – Grade 2 winner Agate Road and his multiple stakes-winning stablemate Noted give Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a strong hand in Saturday’s $175,000 Kitten’s Joy on the Gulfstream Park turf.
The 11th running of the 1 1/16-mile Kitten’s Joy is one of five stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds, four graded, worth $850,000 in purses on a 12-race card anchored by the $250,000 Holy Bull (G3), Gulfstream’s next stop on the road to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) March 31.
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Agate Road was beaten 1 ½ lengths as the favorite in his season opener, the one-mile Dania Beach Jan. 6 at Gulfstream, compromised when pacesetter Tocayo was left alone on an easy lead and kicked away late. Tocayo also returns in the Kitten’s Joy.
“Unfortunately, we just got a little too far behind early on,” Pletcher said of the Dania Beach. “The fractions never really developed; it was kind of a slow pace up front. I thought he closed really well, but just simply had too much to do to close into those slow fractions. I thought he showed up and ran hard like he always does.”
After two straight tries at one mile, including running fifth by 2 ½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Agate Road returns to a distance where he his two-for-two, including a popular 1 ¼-length triumph over Fulmineo in last fall’s Pilgrim (G2) at Aqueduct.
“I believe more distance is definitely better for him,” Pletcher said. “He doesn’t have a lot of early speed and has a good closing kick, but he can be compromised in slow-pace scenarios like he was last time. That’s his running style. We can’t change it; we’ve just got to hope for a little better setup.”
Jose Ortiz rides Agate Road from Post 4.
Repole Stable’s Noted drew outermost Post 9 under Irad Ortiz Jr. for his 3-year-old season opener. The gray or roan son of 2014 Holy Bull winner Cairo Prince overcame a troubled start to rally for a neck victory in the 7 ½-furlong Pulpit Dec. 9 at Gulfstream, his return to the turf after finishing ninth behind another stablemate, 2023 2-year-old male champion Fierceness, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“He really came running at the end,” Pletcher said. “He was kind of bottled up at the start and it looked like he didn’t have anywhere to go, and once he finally got into the clear he showed a great turn of foot and closed a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
Noted broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf last summer and won the one-mile Sapling on Monmouth Park’s main track in his subsequent start. He went back to the grass for the 1 1/16-mile Bourbon (G2) at Keeneland, coming up a nose short in his Breeders’ Cup prep.
“He ran a big race that day, just was on the wrong side of a head bob. It was a terrific effort,” Pletcher said. “He’s going to come from a little bit off of it so he, too, would benefit from a strong early pace. He might be capable of laying a little closer if needed.”
Lugamo Racing Stable’s Tocayo has two wins and a second in four tries since being switched to the turf last fall at Laurel Park by previous trainer Rudy Sanchez-Salomon. He set career-high speed figures in his Dania Beach win, one start after encountering trouble and running eighth, four lengths behind Noted, in the Pulpit.
Qatar Racing and Hunter Valley Farm’s First World War returns to the grass after running second in back-to-back dirt starts most recently beaten a half-length by Holy Bull-bound Otello in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Jan. 1 at Gulfstream. The War Front colt broke his maiden going one mile at Kentucky Downs last fall and went off as the Bourbon favorite, finishing fourth by less than two lengths.
Freedom Principle is entered to make his first start since Nov. 4 and first on the grass after racing four times at a mile and 70 yards over Gulfstream’s all-weather Tapeta course last year. The Jose Garoffalo trainee is chasing a third straight win and second in a stakes following his 1 ¼-length triumph in the Armed Forces last time out.
D. J. Stable’s Deadpan will be making his fifth start and first over the same racetrack after rallying from last to be third, beaten 1 ½ lengths, in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer Jan. 13 at Gulfstream. It marked a return to the East Coast following a sixth-place finish in his stakes debut, the one-mile Cecil B. DeMille (G3) Dec. 3 at Del Mar.
“We were very encouraged from his last run,” said Nick Tomlinson, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. “We’re looking for him to make a move forward. It is a bit quick back for our liking, but we weighed our options and we thought this was the best thing for him.”
Deadpan debuted last summer at Colonial Downs, running third after setting the pace, graduating by a neck in his subsequent start at Keeneland, both going 1 1/16 miles.
“I had him at Colonial and I was really high on him first time out. He got a little bit tired toward the end,” Tomlinson said. “You can breeze them all you want in the morning but sometimes they’re going to need a race in the afternoon, especially going a mile and a sixteenth.”
Deadpan drew Post 5 under his fifth different rider, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who replaces Jose Ortiz, up for his most recent start.
“His last run we were kind of surprised that he was so far back. Jose actually breezed him the week before up at Palm Meadows, so he came in with a ton of confidence [and] he closed really well,” Tomlinson said. “I think he can be a bit closer. We just kind of let him do his thing last time, but we’ll see what happens. Johnny’s a very accomplished jockey so we’ll leave it in his hands.”
Completing the field are Hammerstein, a last out maiden winner on the Gulfstream turf Dec. 23 for red-hot trainer Brian Lynch; Edgartown, fourth in the Dania Beach; and Quokka.