By Casey Laughter
The Gulfstream Park Handicap has been a big race for horses beginning their campaigns against older foes. In 2015, Honor Code won the Gulfstream Park Handicap over top horses such as Private Zone, Valid and Wicked Strong. As we all know, Honor Code went on to win the Eclipse for Champion Older Male in 2015. Other great horses such as Skip Away, Cigar, and Mucho Macho Man won the Gulfstream Park Handicap as well.
This year, a strong, assorted group of older horses should make the Grade II event very interesting. Trainer Todd Pletcher trains four of the seven horses entered in the race. Let’s look over the field:
In slot one, we have the four-year-old Stanford. He is trained by Todd Pletcher and owned, in partnership, by Stonestreet Farm. The son of Malibu Moon enters the race off a second-place finish in the Grade II Fred W. Hooper Stakes, where he was 3 ¾ lengths behind Tommy Macho, a fast-rising star, before he went to the sidelines with a knee injury. Stanford had put in two good works since and looks tough here; may go off as a slight favorite.
The second of the Pletcher horses is Itsaknockout, a son of Lemon Drop Kid. He is coming in off a fourth-place finish in the Donn Handicap, which was won by Mshawish. Pletcher has not been working him hard, only getting two works into him since the Donn. Those works weren’t especially fast or impressive. Itsaknockout should be a factor here though.
Hesinfront doesn’t seem to make much sense in here. He is bred to be excellent on turf, yet here he is: running on the dirt. He won an allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs in November on the dirt, but against no one worth noting. He has had two recorded works since his last start, which were not impressive. I think he is overmatched here.
The third of the Pletcher horses is Blofeld, who is coming in off a fourth-place showing in an allowance optional claimer over the Gulfstream track. He has had three works since then, which have been better than the competition he faces here. However, races and workouts are two different things. After a win in the Nashua Stakes as a two-year-old, Blofeld went missing for nearly five months and, since then, has not recorded a win. He may be able to get back to his winning ways here, but he has a lot to prove.
Valid, a personal favorite of mine, has yet to record a win in 2016, but has finished second in the Hal’s Hope Stakes and the Donn Handicap, which were both won by the Pletcher horse, Mshawish. Here, Valid is free of that rival, who is prepping for the Dubai World Cup. Valid looks like a strong contender who could possibly have a shot as being the post-time favorite. Look out for him — he has speed and he can carry it.
Grande Shores has been working a hole in the wind since his third-place finish in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes. The Stanley Gold trainee has 52 career starts and has been on the board 38 times, which means he has finished in the money 73 percent of the time. The eight-year-old looks to collect another on-the-board finish, and he seems poised to do so.
The fourth Todd Pletcher trainee is Anchor Down, a son of Tapit. The ridgling has only three wins in ten starts, but has been on the board six times. Pletcher has put three works into the horse since his last race, two of which have been bullets. The Tapit ridgling is in here because Pletcher sees something, but based on what I see on paper, for this race, I will look elsewhere.
The Gulfstream Park Handicap looks nearly evenly matched and tough for any horseman, but I see a few horses that I believe stand a chance. Valid has the best chance to finally get a win this year, as Mshawish is not in the race. He has speed and could easily go gate to wire if he is not hounded the entire way. Other horses worth a good look are Stanford and Grande Shores. I would definitely use these three. I would also consider using Itsaknockout, as he seems to have a lot of upside.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Casey Laughter has been following horse racing since 2003, when Funny Cide stole her heart and took Louisville by storm. After that, Casey had succumbed to the horse racing bug — and has been unable to shake it after all these years.
Casey has visited tracks in Ohio, Kentucky and New York, covering events from a weekend at Keeneland to the defeat of a Triple Crown winner. As a student, Casey is hoping to break into the racing world with her photos and her writing. She has a personal blog named A World Full of Furlongs and a photography portfolio on Flickr named Casey Laughter Photography. She also writes for another horse racing website named Lady and the Track.