HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Todd Pletcher is scheduled to saddle four starters in search of his fourth career victory in the $500,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) Saturday. At the very least, the Pletcher trainees will outnumber the competition in the seven-horse field for the 72nd running of the mile handicap.
The defending 12-time Championship Meet training titlist’s rather imposing contingent includes Itsaknockout, the 2015 Fountain of Youth (G2) winner who has demonstrated a distinct liking for the Gulfstream Park main track, and Stanford, the recent runner-up to stablemate Tommy Macho, in the Fred Hooper (G3).
Starlight Racing’s Itsaknockout, who is 2-for-2 over Gulfstream’s one-turn mile course, punched his ticket to last year’s Kentucky Derby after winning the Fountain of Youth via the disqualification of Upstart and finishing fourth behind winning stablemate Materiality in the Florida Derby (G1). The son of Lemon Drop Kid finished a troubled ninth in the Kentucky Derby before going to the sidelines for nearly eight months.
“He broke his maiden here last year going seven-eighths and then he won the mile one-other-than (allowance). Then he was second-placed-first in the Fountain of Youth and kind of ran a flat race in the Kentucky Derby. I actually thought he ran OK that day,” said Pletcher, who has won the Gulfstream Park Handicap with Palace Malice (2014), Discreet Dancer (2013) and Harlington (2006). “His first start back after the Derby was a one-turn mile and I think it was a powerful effort.”
Itsaknockout was impressive while winning a stakes-caliber optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Park Dec. 31. The 4-year-old colt subsequently made a belated rally to finish fourth behind stablemate Mshawish in the Feb. 6 Donn Handicap (G1) under Luis Saez.
“The Donn was a little disappointing because I thought he trained brilliantly for that race. He ran well, but he didn’t fire his best shot, so maybe backing up to the mile might suit him,” Pletcher said. “Luis said he was a little bit flat. I think if Luis could have done it over maybe he would have been a little bit more aggressive early and put him into the race a little more. It kind of unfolded as a relatively slow pace for that caliber of horse, so he struggled to close ground on them.”
Saez has the return mount aboard Itsaknockout, who is scheduled to receive five pounds from Valid, the 123-pound highweight.
Stanford, owned by Stonestreet Stables, Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, returned from a six-month layoff with a solid second in the mile Hooper, 3 ¾ lengths behind Tommy Macho and six lengths clear of third-place finisher Grande Shores.
“I thought he had a big race off the layoff, which we thought he might. That’s why we took a shot in the stake,” Pletcher said. “I thought he ran well enough that he deserved a chance to run back. He proved the one-turn mile suits him, so we’re looking forward to trying him again.”
The 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon won his 3-year-old debut in a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream last year before finishing second behind stablemate Materiality in the Islamorada Stakes. He went on to lose by a neck to International Star in the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) and win the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch at Monmouth Park.
“He won the good allowance race sprinting. He was a good second in the Islamorada to Materiality before Materiality won the Florida Derby and he just missed in the Louisiana Derby,” Pletcher said. “So I think he’s proven versatile enough. I think he’s one of those horses that you can back him up or stretch him out further, but I think the one-turn mile suits him well.”
Leading rider Javier Castellano has the mount.
Pletcher is also slated to saddle Glencrest Farm and JSH Equine’s Blofeld and Alto Racing’s Anchor Down, who finished fourth and third, respectively, in a Jan. 27 optional claiming allowance. Blofeld, who had been on the shelf for nearly seven months, captured the mile 2014 Nashua (G2).
Crossed Sabres Farm’s Valid, a tenacious and consistent graded-stakes veteran, will have the opportunity to push his career bankroll over $1 million with at least a third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. The Marcus Vitali-trained 6-year-old gelding has been in the money in 26 of 35 career starts, including back-to-back second-place finishes behind Mshawish in the Hal’s Hope (G3) and Donn Handicap this season.
“He likes to fight. You got to put him in it. If you don’t put him in the fight, sometimes he gets a little lazy on you,” Vitali said. “If he’s got something to fight for, he’ll fight for it.”
The son of Medaglia d’Oro, who will concede between five and nine pounds to his rivals, has been remarkably resilient while racing 23 times without a break over the past two years.
“He’s a big strong horse and he’s staying healthy. He takes care of himself in the morning,” said Vitali, who named Nik Jaurez to ride the Virginia-bred veteran. “He’s a laid-back, classy horse.”
Jacks or Better Farm’s Grande Shores also brings an impressive record of consistency into the Gulfstream Park Handicap, having finished in the money in 39 of 52 career starts. During the Championship Meet, the Stanley Gold-trained 8-year-old finished second in the Mr. Prospector (G3), third in the Hal’s Hope and third in the Fred Hooper.
Frank Jones Jr.’s Hesinfront, who finished third behind Pletcher-trained General a Rod in an optional claiming allowance for trainer Dale Romans, rounds out the field.
Source: Gulfstream Park