© Benoit Photo
The weekend racing action of December 12th and 13th was a bit quiet by some standards, but did feature several quality stakes races, including the grade I Starlet Stakes (gr. I) at Los Alamitos. But the star of the weekend was probably Valid, the speedy five-year-old gelding that just keeps on running (and frequently winning!) with remarkable consistency.
On Saturday, Valid started as the favorite in the 8.5-furlong Harlan’s Holiday Stakes, a race in which he finished second to Liam’s Map last year. The Harlan’s Holiday marked Valid’s 12th start of the year, and his 33rd since debuting back in October 2012, and coming off of a respectable fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), it would have been understandable if Valid had shown signs of regression after his busy campaign. But in the end, Valid ran as well as ever, tracking fractions of :46.70 and 1:10.82 before reeling in the pace-setting Mr. Jordan and holding off a late bid from Madefromlucky to win by three-quarters of a length. His final time of 1:42.27 was good for a Beyer speed figure of 101.
You have to love a horse like Valid, who brings his best race every time under all sorts of circumstances while withstanding a campaign that is quite busy by modern standards. His record indicates that for the most part, he isn’t quite up to beating the best horses in the country, but he seems to have taken a step forward in recent months, and given his affinity for Gulfstream Park, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he wins the Donn Handicap (gr. I) in February.
But of course, Madefromlucky could have something to say about that. He has also had a long campaign this year, and outside of poor showings in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), he has been very consistent this year while winning and placing in several graded stakes races. Entering the Harlan’s Holiday off a runner-up effort in the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) over a sloppy track, Madefromlucky seemed to appreciate the dry track and solid pace that he encountered in the Harlan’s Holiday, producing a big run from sixth place to fall less than a length short of catching Valid. His record and performances indicate that nine furlongs is probably his best distance, so stretching out another sixteenth of a mile for the Donn Handicap could give him a big chance to turn the tables on Valid.
Credit should also be given to Mr. Jordan, who ran a big race in his first start since finishing last in the August 2nd Haskell Invitational (gr. I). After carving out a good pace, he battled with Valid through the homestretch and only gave way in the final furlong, retreating to finish third by 3 3/4 lengths. In the official post-race quotes posted on the Gulfstream Park website, Mr. Jordan’s trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., said that the Harlan’s Holiday was a good first race back for Mr. Jordan. “Thought he ran well off the long layoff. It wasn’t the preferred race. We wanted to go one turn off the layoff, but this is what was available and I think this will serve as a building block.”
Earlier on the Gulfstream card, a trio of intriguing races for two-year-olds were held, led by an 8.5-furlong maiden special weight that served as the opening race on the card. The winner was Neolithic, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Harlan’s Holiday that rated comfortably behind fractions of :49.14 and 1:13.21 before rallying gamely in the homestretch to reel in Majesto and triumph by three-quarters of a length. The final time of 1:44.64 was more than two seconds slower than Valid ran later on the card, but Neolithic did run his final five-sixteenths of a mile in a solid :31 flat, and while there really wasn’t anything flashy about Neolithic’s performance, he seems like a capable colt that is getting better with every race and could have an impact in Derby prep races over the next few months.
Later on the card, Todd Pletcher started the promising debut winner Prospectus in a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race, but Prospectus–who broke his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion–got off to a very slow start on Saturday and trailed the field by nearly ten lengths early on before rallying through the pack in the final furlongs to get up and finish third, beaten 4 1/2 lengths. Time will tell if Prospectus has the talent to step up into stakes company, but I thought this was a very solid effort given his complete change in running style, and if he reverts to his more forwardly-placed style when stretching out in distance, I still think he can be a factor in Derby prep races next year.
But all that said, take nothing away from the victorious Cat Tree, who entered Saturday’s allowance race off a runner-up effort in the Buffalo Man Stakes and was thus heavily favored to win this weekend. He was beaten to the lead through a quarter-mile in :22.32–a very fast fraction given that the run-up was just ten feet–and after opening up a 1 1/2-length advantage through a half-mile in :45.75, he showed spectacular determination to dig deep and hold off a late bid from Kokomo Wildcat to prevail by a head in the time of 1:11.06 seconds. His pedigree suggests that he will be best at sprinting, but it will be interesting to see if he’s given a chance to stretch out in the one-mile, one-turn Gulfstream Park Derby in early January.
The last two-year-old race of note was a 7 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on turf, in which Todd Pletched started a pair of first-time starters named Kismet’s Heels and Gimlet. Both colts ran very well, settling at the very back of the field before producing big runs while racing very wide to finish second and fourth, respectively, but they were beaten to the wire by Eddie Keneally’s experienced colt Urban Bourbon, who was never more than a length behind before opening up a two-length lead in the homestretch and holding off Kismet’s Heels by a length in 1:32.29 seconds. Notably, Urban Bourbon entered Saturday’s race off a runner-up effort to the promising American Dubai in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs, which suggests that American Dubai might be a very talented runner.
Leaving Gulfstream Park behind, we’ll turn out attentions to Los Alamitos, where the Starlet Stakes (gr. I) was held. The 8.5-furlong race for two-year-old fillies features a talented field of nine California-based runners with Kentucky Oaks aspirations, and a case could be made for every filly in the race to run well.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the race was whether or not Bob Baffert’s Pretty N Cool, runner-up to Songbird in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) earlier this year, could stretch out around two turns. The talented filly had thoroughly proven herself at sprint distances, but didn’t seem to have the best finishing kick, which hinted that two-turn races might be a bit beyond her scope. Still, it was definitely worth a try to see if she could stretch out in distance, and she almost surprised her doubters by leading past the eighth pole and looking like a possible winner. But in that final furlong, Pretty N Cool–along with most of the other fillies in the race–found the distance to be beyond what they could handle, and the final five-sixteenths of a mile was timed in :33.16 seconds, a very slow fraction.
Taking advantage of the slow final fractions was Street Fancy, who produced a huge rally up the rail under Mike Smith to roar past her rivals and win by a length over Stays in Vegas, who performed the best of the early leaders to finish second after tracking the early pace. Now granted, Street Fancy’s big rally was partly an illusion generated by the slow final fractions, but the sight of this Street Sense daughter rallying from the back of the pack under Mike Smith did bring to mind images of Zenyatta. Time will tell if Street Fancy can achieve anywhere near the same level of success as Zenyatta (Street Fancy’s Beyer was only a 74), but she is a grade I winner, and looks like one of California’s leading contenders for the Kentucky Oaks at this point in time.
Let’s also give some credit to Pretty N Cool, who battled on to finish fourth, beaten just four lengths. It was an admirable effort, but it does look like she’ll be best sprinting, and if she cuts back to seven furlongs or less for next year, I think she’ll win her fair share of stakes races.
Another notable stakes races at Los Alamitos was the King Glorious Stakes for California-bred two-year-olds, in which Found Money–coming off of a fourth-place effort in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III)–was favored at even money. He had to work hard to secure the victory, as the 17-1 shot Glory Bound wasn’t going to go down without a fight, but after a prolonged battle in the long Los Alamitos homestretch, Found Money edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths in the time of 1:37.46 seconds, good for a Beyer speed figure of 76. This effort further proves the strength over the Delta Downs Jackpot field, and also flatters the performances of the unbeaten Smokey Image, who defeated Found Money in two races earlier this year.
Still, the best race of the weekend for two-year-olds was probably the $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile at Remington Park. Solid fractions of :23.50, :46.58, and 1:11.93 tired out the pacesetters and led to a thrilling finish between Discreetness and Suddenbreakingnews, a pair of late-running colts that finished just a nose apart while stopping the clock for a mile in 1:39.15 (good for a Beyer of 77) over a sloppy, sealed track. Both colts had run well in the past, with Discreetness winning a seven-furlong allowance race at Churchill and Suddenbreakingnews winning the Clever Trevor Stakes, so their strong showings in the Springboard weren’t a surprise. Still, the colt I’m most interested in coming out of this race is Esposito, who finished third. Coming off of a win in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar, Esposito ran a big race in the Springboard, staying right within striking range of the leaders before taking command in the homestretch and just failing to hold on in the final furlong, missing the win by three-quarters of a length. This was a very big effort given that he was making his two-turn debut while shipping across the country and running on a sloppy track for the first time, and I think we’re going to hear a lot from this colt during the next few months.
Now it’s your turn! Which horses impressed you the most last weekend?
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