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Gulfstream Park Handicap Preview: Sharp Azteca Makes 2017 Debut

SHARP AZTECA - The Pat Day Mile Gr III - 92nd Running - 05-07-16 - R10 - CD - Coady Photography
Coady Photography

Looking for a place to launch Sharp Azteca’s 4-year-old campaign, trainer Jorge Navarro found the perfect spot in Saturday’s $350,000 Hardacre Mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

The 73rd running of the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap is one of three graded stakes worth $850,000 in purses on the 12-race program, along with the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles and $150,000 Suwannee River (G3) for females 4 and up, also at nine furlongs on the grass.

Gelfenstein Farm’s Sharp Azteca has been a model of consistency through his still-young career, finishing worse than third only once in nine lifetime starts with four wins and three seconds. He is a perfect in three tries at the one-mile distance, two of them coming last winter over Gulfstream’s main track, breaking his maiden and beating an entry-level allowance field by a combined 11 ½ lengths.

Top Choice

#1 Tommy Macho – Last time out I embarrassingly missed the boat on this horse after predicting him right for most of his career. In the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope he ran a MONSTER race, and if he can repeat that race today they all will be running for second once again. The pace scenario should set up very well for him here in this spot so he should have an opportunity to run a big one yet again. Hopefully this isn’t a scenario where I’m one race too late…

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#7 Sharp Azteca – At his best this horse is awfully tough to beat going one turn. Last time out he ran a bang up race in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita but was caught late in the stretch by Mind Your Biscuits. Trainer Jorge Navarro believes the one mile distance will suit this horse best as one of his best efforts came at the distance when he dominated in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. Should have every chance to win today as he makes his 2017 debut at the track he loves.

Exotic Plays

#6 Realm – He’s proven a couple of times now that he is good enough to compete with this sort of company without a problem, but he’s also proven that he might not be good enough to actually win a race like this. He’s finished third in his last two races against graded company, but he was beaten multiple lengths in both races. This field is very similar to the last two he’s been in as Tommy Macho defeated him last time out. Expecting more of the same today from him.

#8 Awesome Banner – Since the trainer change this horse has been an ATM machine as he’s hit the board in seven of his last eight races. However, he was a well beaten fifth in Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita which makes me think he might not be good enough to beat the top flight horses in this group. That’s why I’ve put him as an “exotic play” today. Look for him to give a solid effort though.

Party Crashers

#5 Zulu – Last year at this time he was the “hot horse” but after a complete disaster in the Bluegrass Stakes we didn’t see him again until December 18th when he returned to win a small seven furlong stakes at Gulfstream Park by nearly three lengths. What he does today is a complete guess so I wouldn’t suggest playing him at a short price. If his price begins to go up he might be worth a small shot though.

#3 Blofeld – Won this race last year, but ran three poor races in a row after winning here. For the most part he’s been disappointing after a 3 for 3 start as a two year old. However, you can’t count out Todd Pletcher, and this horse has been showing some decent workouts in the morning. He’s not without a chance here, but the price is going to have to be right to take a shot with him today.

Throw Outs

#2 Hy Riverside – He’s back again? This horse ran on January 14th, January 21st, January 28th, and now February 11th. You have to think it’s taken it’s toll on him, and the simple fact is he hasn’t ran well against open company. Have to pass on him today.

#4 Squadron A – Winner of two in a row coming into the race including a Grade 3 last time…and I’m throwing him out? Sounds a little strange, but I’m just not sold that he’ll be as strong running one mile. In a race that seems to be very competitive I’ll let him beat me.

#9 Awesome Slew – Sort of a flat disappointing effort last time out in the Sunshine Millions to finish third as a heavy favorite. Now he’s back in the deep end of the pool again which has me a little scared. Although, he does have a new trainer on his side which could help.

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