Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes has gained traction in recent years as the top local prep for the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, the first Grade 1 turf event of the season in the United States.
Eleven runners—not including one main track only entrant—have lined up to kick off their 2016 seasons in this spot. The field is primarily composed of hardened older campaigners. In fact, six of the 11 entered runners are either six or seven years old. The youngster of the field is newly turned four-year-old Takeover Target. While the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, it also illustrates that there are only two runners, Fredericksburg and Heart to Heart, that possess the speed to separate themselves from the main body of the field early.
The Gulfstream Park turf course has been firm as of late, but there is a 40% to 50% chance of thunderstorms on both Friday and Saturday, so it will be wise to keep an eye on the track conditions come race day.
Let’s go through the field.
#1, Lochte (3/1): The Marcus Vitali trainee has become a fixture at Gulfstream Park in the winter months. He’s back for his third season here as he tries to get back to the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. This six-year-old is now two years removed from his shining moment, when he pulled off a shocking 39/1 upset in that very race. He again may have been best in last year’s edition, but an unlucky stretch run prevented him from having a say in the outcome. The 2016 version of Lochte comes into the Fort Lauderdale riding a three-race win streak. There’s a lot to like: He’s getting back on his favorite turf course, drew very well down on the rail, and gets the services of the country’s leading rider, Javier Castellano. That said, it’s possible that his recent string of wins will drive down his price. After all, it’s not as if he’s been beating up on the best fields in those races. Two and three back he won listed stakes at odds of 3/5 and 11/10 and the race ratings of those races suggest that they were far softer tests than the challenge he’ll face today. He did wallop a deeper field in the Tropical Park Turf Handicap last time, but we don’t want to put too much stock in that result. Though the turf course was listed as firm, a viewing of the replay reveals that the race was run in the middle of a monsoon, while the incredibly slow final time is indicative of a boggy course. His primary competition in that race, All Included, clearly did not care for the going and failed to show up with a competitive performance. We respect Lochte, but would tread lightly here if his price dips below around 3/1.
#2, Money Talker (20/1): This seven-year-old returns to Gulfstream a year after finishing fourth and fifth in the Mac Diarmada and Pan American, respectively. This horse’s recent speed figures are not competitive with the top contenders in this affair and he may prefer slightly longer distances. Though Josie Carroll has not shied away from sending horses to winter in Florida, success over this course has been hard to come by, as is evidenced by her meager 21 trainer rating at Gulfstream. Moving on.
#3, Key to Power (20/1): This regally bred son of A. P. Indy clearly loves to win races, having taken down top honors in 12 of 36 career starts, including four of his last six races. He benefitted from fast paces (note the paces figures color-coded in red) at Ellis Park and Arlington when winning a pair of stakes in September and then was a decent fourth behind Lochte in that gloomy running of the Tropical Park Turf Handicap. Though his top speed figure of 117 puts him in the conversation, that number appears to be somewhat of an outlier compared to his surrounding races. A projected fast pace would help him, but we still feel that he’s a cut below the major contenders.
#4, Lukes Alley (20/1): You have to admire any horse that’s been able to finish in the exacta in 10 of 12 career starts. This six-year-old clearly has some issues, having made just four starts in 2014 and three starts in 2015, but he is capable of running speed figures in the low 120s when he’s right. The main issue is his lack of turf experience. We’re willing to ignore his Hawthorne Derby, which was run over a grass course so saturated with rain that it might have made the aforementioned Gulfstream Park West course on Tropical Park Turf Handicap day actually look firm. Lukes Alley’s only other turf start was a maiden-breaking score at Woodbine and he certainly seemed to take to the lawn on that occasion. However, it remains to be seen if he can translate his synthetic form to a graded stakes on grass. As we pointed out in regards to his stablemate, Money Talker, Josie Carroll has not done well at this meet in the past. An 84-rated trainer overall, she gets a rating of just 21 at Gulfstream. This horse undoubtedly has talent, but we’re inclined to let him beat us today.
#5, Slip By (20/1): This Michael Matz trainee has been threatening to break out into a graded stakes quality turf performer, but has yet to actually deliver on that promise. He hinted at good things to come with a close fourth in the Firecracker last June and followed that up with a close second behind today’s rival All Included at Saratoga. However, his results have been a mixed bag since then. He got back to the winner’s circle at Laurel in October, but that race was run over a rain-soaked course, conditions he’s unlikely to encounter here. Then last time he completely failed to show up in the Artie Schiller Stakes at Aqueduct. He still has some upside, but this ambitious placing may be asking too much right now.
#6, All Included (6/1): As was previously noted, this was the favorite in the Tropical Park Turf Handicap. We’re willing to ignore the effort since he obviously didn’t appreciate the course conditions that day. While his prior form is much stronger than that showing, we’re still not completely sold. The best race of his career was his third-place finish behind the course-record-shattering Ironicus in the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. However, that race was run during a period when Saratoga’s turf course was heavily tilted towards runners that were racing on the hedge, and All Included was riding that inside path for much of the running. While he was hardly disgraced next time out in the Knickerbocker, that effort won’t quite get it done against this field. Though we’re getting mixed signals from this one, we aren’t willing to completely dismiss his chances since he should be a fair price.
#7, War Correspondent (4/1): The lightly raced son of War Front is apparently using this race as a prep for a second crack at the Gulstream Park Turf Handicap. He finished third in last year’s edition of that prestigious race after a wide run around the far turn. The 118 speed figure he earned for the effort, which matches the number he recorded in his prior start over Woodbine’s synthetic track, puts him squarely in the mix against this field. That said, he has a 287-day layoff to deal with as he makes just the ninth start of his career now as a six-year-old. This is the second time he’s returning from an extended break, so there are clearly some issues here. We respect the job that Christophe Clement does, but you have to wonder how many times his connections can keep going back to the well expecting to get top performances. He’s one of many contenders, but we’d need a bigger price than his 4/1 morning line back him in this spot.
#8, Takeover Target (5/1): The youngest runner in the main body of the field put together a string of solid performances in an abbreviated three-year-old campaign, which saw him come away with a pair of graded stakes victories. He found a mile and a quarter to be slightly too demanding in the Belmont Derby but followed that up with wins in the Hall of Fame and Hill Prince. Sandwiched between those wins was a disappointing effort as the favorite in the Saranac, but he had a legitimate excuse that day since he sustained a wide trip against a live rail. We take the 121 speed figure he earned in his three-year-old finale with a grain of salt since that race was run over a soft turf course, but Chad Brown has a knack for continuing to get runners like this to improve as they mature. Takeover Target possesses good tactical speed as well as a quick turn of foot, which is a powerful combination in turf races. We can definitely use this one, but wouldn’t stand for much less than his morning line price of 5/1.
#9, Sky Flight (8/1): While we don’t have any major knocks against this horse, we just feel that there are better wagering opportunities to be found in this race. He got an absolutely perfect trip when winning the Artie Schiller last time, tracking a moderate pace while saving all the ground racing along the rail before angling out smoothly for the stretch drive. The 120 speed figure he earned for that effort puts him squarely in the mix here, but we feel that he’s destined to encounter a more difficult trip from this outside post position here.
#10, Fredericksburg (15/1): It’s been over two years since this one has found himself in the winner’s circle. While he’s hard to make a case for in the top slot, he’s nevertheless a runner that can have a major impact on the outcome of this race. The Pace Projector is predicting that he is one of two speeds, along with Heart to Heart. He’s certainly not a need-the-lead type, so Joe Bravo will have some decisions to make. He is drawn to the inside of his main pace rival, so if Bravo sends him hard out of the gate, the fast pace predicted by the Pace Projector is likely to come to fruition. However, if Bravo takes back and lets Heart to Heart go, that could change the projected shape of this race.
#11, Heart to Heart (6/1):
Speed is the name of the game for this Brian Lynch-trained five-year-old. Julien Leparoux knows this horse well, having ridden him in four of his seven lifetime victories, so you can be sure that they will go early from this outside post position. Unlike Fredericksburg, Heart to Heart is totally one-dimensional. During his 18-start career, he has controlled the pace—been ahead by a length or better—eight times. Out of those eight situations, seven have resulted in victories. In other words, he’s never won without the early lead. When Heart to Heart gets the right kind of ride, he is very good, Three of his last five starts have resulted in speed figures between 119 and 120, numbers that can certainly win this race. The outside post position may actually work to his advantage since the chances of him encountering trouble at the start are minimized. A mile and a sixteenth is well within his wheelhouse, and we expect him to prove very difficult to catch. His morning line price of 6/1 is fair enough for us.
#12, Madefromlucky (MTO): This newly turned four-year-old would be a deserving heavy favorite in the unlikely scenario that this race is rained off the turf.
HEART TO HEART (#11) is our top selection in the Fort Lauderdale. We believe there’s a chance that he could shake loose from this field early, and he is extremely dangerous in those situations. We can also use an in-form Lochte (#1), the enigmatic All Included (#6), and talented four-year-old Takeover Target (#8).
WIN bet: #11
EXACTA Key Box: #11 with 1,6,8