The stakes season may be over at Hawthorne, but Picks and Ponderings stays with you through the winter. This weekend's racing only features a pair of graded stakes, but we take you through them both. This preview flies south for the weekend, focusing on the Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes for older sprinters at Gulfstream. Paul Mazur heads west to look at the next step along the Kentucky Derby trail, the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity.
Saturday's lone graded race at Gulfstream takes its name from a pretty good sprinter. Mr. Prospector won seven of his 14 career starts, including the 1974 Gravesend Handicap and the 1974 Whirlaway Handicap. Of course, the racetrack was not where this son of Raise a Native made his biggest impact. He commanded six-figure stud fees in the 1980s, and led the sire list in 1987 and 1988. He also became a seminal sire of sires, with sons including Fappiano, Unbridled, Gone West, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, and Smart Strike.
The Mr. Prospector Stakes was previously known as the Hallandale Handicap (and, at times, the Hallandale Stakes), named after Hallandale Beach, the city in which Gulfstream Park lies. The race was not always a dirt sprint; it has been run on turf before, as well, at distances as long as two miles. It has been on dirt since 1983, and been run at its current distance since 1994. It was renamed in 2000 as a posthumous honour to Mr. Prospector, who passed away in 1999. Notable winners of the race have included 2010 Champion Sprinter Big Drama (2011) and Churchill Downs stakes namesake Kelly's Landing (2007). Of more local interest is 1990 winner Beau Genius: a two-time stakes winner at Arlington, and also the damsire of five-time Illinois-bred stakes winner Luv Bandit. No horse has won the Mr. Prospector Stakes twice yet, though two will attempt that feat here: 2013 winner SINGANOTHERSONG and 2014 hero SPEECHIFY.
Big Drama, winning the 2011 Mr. Prospector Stakes. The track record he set that day (1:08.12 for six furlongs) still stands.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time.
Gulfstream Park: December 19
Race 3: Mr. Prospector Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 1:35pm EST
This year's renewal of the Mr. Prospector Stakes drew seven runners to contend for a $100,000 purse. The name of this year's game is speed, speed, and more speed. X Y JET rates as the likely speed of the speed, but both SING ANOTHER SONG and WEEKEND HIDEAWAY also do their best by far when they can get the front, and they will be trying. STALLWALKIN' DUDE has plenty of early foot, too. With that, the race looks to set up very well for an off-the-pace type.
Enter C. ZEE. This stalking to mid-pack type has been trying all sorts of things for most of the year: tracks near and far, dirt and turf courses, sprint and route races. However, here, C. ZEE finally gets back to his best, his bread and butter: sprinting on the main track at Gulfstream Park. All four of his career wins, as well as three of his second-place finishes, have come over this course. Though only one of his wins has come at six furlongs, he has never missed the board in seven tries at six furlongs, including a second behind Work All Week in the 2014 Phoenix Stakes. All this combines to suggest that C. ZEE is for real in the Mr. Prospector.
C. ZEE also stands to be a bit better price than SPEECHIFY -- last year's Mr. Prospector winner, and basically a 1/1A to C. ZEE here. A true stalking type, he can press the pace if necessary, but can also sit a length or two off and get first run. Expect the latter here. He loves the Gulfstream course, with four wins and two more money finishes in seven starts there. He loves six furlongs even more, with a 5-4-1-0 career line at the distance. He gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario. Rosario is not only a quality rider, but he has back form with SPEECHIFY, having booted him home once at Gulfstream last year. The biggest question about SPEECHIFY is whether to be absolutely sure that he is back to his usual self after he fell two starts back at Keeneland, when he had the bad luck of being too close to the fatally injured Shore Runner. That makes him a bit less attractive than he would otherwise be, particularly for the short price. Still, a return to anything like his old self makes SPEECHIFY loom large to repeat.
The third slot was a tight call between X Y JET and STALLWALKIN' DUDE. X Y JET has the sharpest early speed in the field, as well as decent Gulfstream form; if a front-end type holds up, it will likely be him. However, with so much other speed in the field, the rating gear gives STALLWALKIN' DUDE the nod. STALLWALKIN' DUDE won the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit last out at seven furlongs over this course, and cuts back to six here. This horse is a consistent runner at six panels -- 12-5-2-2 lifetime -- and also has four wins in eleven starts over the main track at Gulfstream. He can win on the front end, and has shown repeatedly that he can survive a speed duel. Still, he can also win a race from a spot a length or two back, giving him a shot to let the speediest trio wear each other out, run them down, and have enough left to challenge the rallying closers.
#1 C. ZEE (5/1)
#6 SPEECHIFY (8/1)
#3 STALLWALKIN' DUDE (9/5)
Longshot: Trainer Stanley Gold sends two out in the Mr. Prospector. His "A" entry was covered above: the top selection, C. ZEE. However, #4 GRANDE SHORES (6/1) is the "other" Gold, and he has a shot here, too. Though he finished fourth against a bit weaker company in the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit last out, he did not have the best trip that day, and he rallied from well off a pace in which one of the early duelers, STALLWALKIN' DUDE, was able to rebuff another challenge and win the race. This race has more can't-rate speed, and he should get more to rally into. GRANDE SHORES would do well with the sort of trip he got two back, where he sat a few lengths back early and then made a rally. He has also run well on the lead, but with the likes of X Y JET, SINGANOTHERSONG, and WEEKEND HIDEAWAY in the bunch, do not expect that side of him to show up here. Still, with 15 out of 20 Gulfstream starts ending with GRANDE SHORES in the money, and five wins (plus another seven money finishes) at six furlongs, GRANDE SHORES could come through as the longer-priced stablemate.
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