HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trying Grade 1 company for the first time, Melnyk Racing Stables consistent homebred Lukes Alley ran down stubborn pacesetter Shining Copper in the final yards to win the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) by a neck Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The 30th running of the 1 1/8-mile Turf Handicap for 4-year-olds and up was the fifth of six stakes races, four of them graded, on a 13-race program anchored by the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1), the first major race of the year for older horses.
A 6-year-old Ontario-bred son of Flower Alley, Lukes Alley has run first or second in 12 of his last 13 starts for trainer Jose Carroll including a narrow half-length loss in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Jan. 9 over the same Gulfstream turf course.
It was the third career graded stakes win for Lukes Alley, first in a Grade 1 and first on turf. He won a pair of graded events over Woodbine’s Polytrack surface last fall.
“It was close. This is a gutsy horse. I knew he’d go down fighting if he lost. This is a horse that always shows up. I was confident he’d run his race and we were lucky enough to win it. He’s a very, very honest horse and I think he really deserves this.”
Lopez settled Lukes Alley in fourth after breaking from the rail post as Shining Copper took the field through a quarter-mile in 24.54 second and opened a four-length lead after running a half in 49.12. He was still in front after going six furlongs in 1:13.63 and had a 1 ½-length advantage at the head of the stretch.
Meanwhile, Lopez swung Lukes Alley three wide rounding the far turn to launch his bid and gained steadily on the outside down the middle of the stretch, putting away Shining Copper at the wire in 1:48.20 over a firm turf course.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get there. It was a tough race and I knew my horse was going to run big because I rode him last time and he was second. He didn’t like the rail then, but he liked the rail today,” Lopez said. “I didn’t have a perfect trip—I had to go forward, then behind, but when I got him outside nobody was coming. It was the perfect move for my horse. I got a little lucky and I had the best horse today.”
Sent off as the 5-1 fourth choice in a field of eight, Lukes Alley ($12.20) earned $210,490 to push his career bankroll to $758,956 in 14 starts. Shining Copper was three-quarters of a length ahead of All Included in third, followed by Takeover Target, even-money favorite The Pizza Man, Triple Threat, Legendary and Eh Cumpari.
Ridden by Javier Castellano, 2015 Arlington Million (G1) winner The Pizza Man was beaten 3 ¾ lengths in his 7-year-old debut. A winner of four of his last seven starts, he also finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) last October.
“I don’t think it was a good setup today,” Castellano said. “I just rode with a lot of patience. He kicked but I don’t know if it was the track here, the way the speed carries. It’s so hard for a horse that comes from way, way back. It could be the combination of the slow pace and a track that carries speed. It took a little while for him to go forward and I think that’s why he got beat today.”
Source: Gulfstream Park