The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap is the first Grade 1 race of the calendar year by approximately 30 minutes, just preceding the Donn Handicap. While the bulk of this field is composed of also-rans from the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes, this group does include at least one proven Grade 1 performer, The Pizza Man.
The popular 2015 Arlington Million winner launches his seven-year-old campaign in this spot and would go over the $2 million mark in career earnings with a win. While he has been successful going this short in the past, he’s undoubtedly a bit better going longer than this nine-furlong distance.
The Pace Projector is not predicting a pace that is fast or slow, but it does clearly illustrate that there’s only one confirmed frontunner in this race, the speedy Shining Copper.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Lukes Alley (8/1): This six year-old Ontario-bred made just his second trip out of Canada for last month’s Fort Lauderdale Stakes and the results were quite encouraging. Dismissed at 8/1 despite having compiled a strong resume racing over synthetic surfaces, Lukes Alley proved that he’s just as good on turf as he is over Woodbine’s Polytrack. That said, Lukes Alley did receive an absolutely perfect trip in the Fort Lauderdale, riding the rail the entire way before tipping out just one path in the stretch to get within a half-length of wire-to-wire winner Heart to Heart. He drew well towards the rail once again, and his tactical speed should serve him well in a field lacking speed and tracking types. He’s in the mix, but he needs to show up with another top performance.
#2, Legendary (10/1): While never quite a Grade 1 performer, Legendary has carved out a niche for himself in Grade 2 and Grade 3 company over the past two seasons. He appeared to be tailing off towards the middle of 2015, but he rebounded with solid performances in the Commonwealth Cup and Knickerbocker in the fall. At his best, he can achieve speed figures in the low 120s, but we still believe he’s biting off a bit more than he can chew at this level.
#3, Triple Threat (10/1): He was impressive in his stateside debut in the Monmouth Stakes last June, but he has yet to get back to the winner’s circle while on a steady diet of Grade 1 stakes since then. He was soundly defeated by today’s rivals The Pizza Man and Shining Copper in the Arlington Million, and we believe that he may be slightly overmatched at this level.
#4, All Included (12/1): This Todd Pletcher-trainee has been steadily improving over the past year. His breakout performance came in last season’s Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga when finishing third to the immensely talented Ironicus. He did ride a gold rail that day before angling out in the stretch, but it was nevertheless a strong performance. Since then, he’s been unlucky on a few occasions. He was compromised by a three to four-wide trip in the Knickerbocker, and then he did not care for a rain-softened turf course in the Tropical Park Turf Handicap. He was a little wide once again last time in the Fort Lauderdale, but we do feel that he’s starting to run out of excuses. We know he has ability at this point, but we would still require a price of around 12/1 or higher to strongly support him in exactas and trifectas.
#5, Eh Cumpari (20/1): This horse has not taken a step forward since winning the Palm Beach here as a three-year-old. He’s in over his head.
#6, The Pizza Man (4/5): Here is the star attraction in this year’s Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. The Pizza Man proved his class and versatility through the latter portion of 2015, beating U.S. Turf Champion Big Blue Kitten in the Arlington Million before finishing a close second in the too-short Shadwell Turf Mile. Once again, he’s racing over a distance that is probably a furlong short of his best, but his superior ability nonetheless makes him a major threat to take down this initial Grade 1 of the season. However, The Pizza Man is listed at 4/5 on the morning line, and, while that seems short, he is indeed likely to go off as a very strong favorite. Given the likely price, we should point out that he was the beneficiary of a fast pace when he was successful in that Shadwell Turf Mile, and beyond that, he received fast paces in a number of races in a number of starts last season. The Pizza Man once had tactical speed, but he’s turned into a deep closer in recent months. That’s somewhat of a concern in today’s race given the overall lack of frontrunners, aside from the speedy Shining Copper. He is the most likely winner, but we wouldn’t want to take too short of a price on a horse that undoubtedly has bigger fish to fry down the line.
#7, Takeover Target (10/1): This newly turned four-year-old is the one we really want out of the Fort Lauderdale. Not only was he compromised as a closer racing behind a slow pace (color-coded in blue), but he was following All Included for much of the running and was prevented from making a move when caught in traffic at a critical point approaching the top of the stretch. He showed that he has the ability to sit closer to the pace when necessary, in races such as the Hill Prince and Hall of Fame last year. The 123 speed figure that he registered last time is a great starting point, and he must be considered a major threat here given the likelihood of his working out a better trip while possibly taking a step forward second time back from the layoff.
#8, Shining Copper (6/1):
This is by far the most intriguing runner in this race. Since being claimed by the Ramseys in late May of last year, he has been used as a “rabbit” in four consecutive starts, primarily for the purpose of benefitting Big Blue Kitten. Most rabbits set out to influence a race for the first three-quarters of a mile or so and then yield to their more highly regarded stablemates. But Shining Copper has not been your typical rabbit. He set fast paces in both the United Nations and Arlington Million, and still led those fields into the final eighth of a mile before succumbing to top turf runners like Big Blue Kitten, The Pizza Man, and Slumber. He couldn’t quite repeat those feats when stretched out to a more demanding mile-and-a-half in his next two starts, but he did earn the distinction of registering the highest-ever TimeformUS Pace Figure in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (>>see related piece). Now, for the first time, Shining Copper is on a solo mission. Is it possible that this horse could have won races like the United Nations and Arlington Million if he, rather than his stablemate, had been the focus? We’ll never know, but there’s no doubt that he has improved immeasurably under the care of Mike Maker and Chad Brown. Today he attracts the services of Joel Rosario, widely regarded to be an excellent front-running jockey, and we would imagine that Chad Brown has worked with him to tame that natural early speed in advance of this 2016 campaign. If they use his speed wisely and he brings a top effort, we don’t see any reason why he couldn’t take down The Pizza Man—and the price is going to be generous.
EXACTA: #8 with 4,6,7