Saturday Gulfstream Stakes Preview: Harlan's Holiday and More!

Chicago has gotten cold, so cold that Hawthorne skipped a day of racing on Thursday.  If you're looking to take a vacation to warmer climes, look no further.  Picks and Ponderings takes a road trip to sunny Florida, and Gulfstream's stakes-packed Saturday card.

The Hallandale Beach oval hosts five stakes on Saturday.  We analyse them all here.

The handicap division, perhaps getting a tune-up for next month's Pegasus World Cup, has the Harlan's Holiday.  One-turn dirt filly and mares have a pair of graded stakes: the six-furlong Sugar Swirl Stakes (GIII) and the one-mile Rampart (GIII).

Middle distance lawnmowers round out the stakes portion of the card: the El Prado Stakes is a seven and a half-furlong race for open company, and the South Beach Stakes is the fillies' complement.  Though the El Prado and the South Beach are ungraded, from a wagering perspective, those are the best of Gulfstream's Saturday stakes offerings.

Selections for the El Prado Stakes and the South Beach Stakes are made for turf only, and the rail is planned to be set at 24 feet for both grass races.  The preview of the Harlan's Holiday Stakes is jointly submitted for publication at Thorofan's Handicapper's Corner.

Saturday, December 17: Gulfstream Park

Race 4: Sugar Swirl Stakes (GIII), three year olds and up, fillies and mares, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 1:30pm EST

The Sugar Swirl Stakes was originally named the First Lady Handicap, was renamed to its current moniker in 2010.  Sugar Swirl, a daughter of Touch Gold, was a three-time graded stakes winner at Gulfstream Park -- including the 2008 edition of the First Lady.  The race has always been run at six furlongs on the main track at Gulfstream, for fillies and mares, and has held a Grade III designation since 1993.  The durable Scotzanna -- Canada's champion sprinter and champion three-year-old filly of 1995 -- won this race in 1999.  To date, she is the only champion to have won this race.  From a more local perspective, a pair of winners of this race have hit the board in the Chicago Handicap (GIII) at Arlington: Savorthetime (2005) finished second behind Happy Ticket in the Chicago Handicap later that year, and Raging Fever (2002) came here and finished second behind For Rubies in 2003.


In the 2015 Sugar Swirl Stakes, STONETASTIC went off the 3/10 favourite but 5/1 shot Best Behavior got the best of her.  STONETASTIC tries again this year.

The question when STONETASTIC runs always comes down to one simple thing: can she get the lead?  If she can clear early, the others will find it difficult to catch her.  If she can't, she's all but done.  In last year's Sugar Swirl, Dogwood Trail outgunned her, and STONETASTIC could do no better than second.  This year, though DEAREST, DANESSA AGAIN, and SKY GOLD have shown some speed, STONETASTIC should be fast enough to make the top over them, get six furlongs, and leave them chasing for second money.  STONETASTIC has shown great form in her other two starts at Gulfstream: she won at six and a half furlongs and then seven, which stands out given that STONETASTIC does not want an inch past six panels.  Add to this that regular rider Paco Lopez has started the meet with a 28% win rate, and has done great work lately with trainer Kelly Breen (won five of their last seven together, with all seven on the board).  STONETASTIC looks like a single here.

DEAREST faces older mares for the first time, but her speeds fit right in with the better among her foes here.  Early pace is the question -- she has some early speed, but would have to take a step forward in order to show enough to keep STONETASTIC honest.  She does her best from a pressing place, and should be able to stay on and hit the board.  STONETASTIC would have to have an off day, or DEAREST would have to run the race of her life, for her to win.  But, her form over the course and distance, as well as her forward running style, make her a must-use underneath.

YOU BOUGHT HER finished third in this race last year, but six furlongs is on the short end and she has proven to be an underneath type at best at Gulfstream.  Look at her for underneath.  But, on top, save her for Tampa or for an extended sprint.

Selections:

#5 STONETASTIC (7/5)

#1 DEAREST (9/5)

#6 YOU BOUGHT HER (5/2)

Longshot:  Today's over-under on "field size that will entice the longshot writer to come out of their shell" is 6.5.  The over wins.

Race 5: Rampart Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one mile on the dirt, post time 2:00pm EST

The Rampart Stakes was inaugurated as a seven-furlong race in 1976, dropped off the calendar until returning in 1981, and has been run ever since.  The race takes its name from Rampart, a mare who vanquished males in the 1948 Gulfstream Park Handicap.  It has been run at distances ranging from seven to nine furlongs, and has only been run at its current one-turn mile since February of 2015.  (There were two instances of the Rampart Stakes in 2015: one in February, and another in December.)  First elevated to Grade III status in 1986, it earned a Grade II in 1988, then was brought back to Grade III in 2010.  Winners of the Rampart have included solid racemares who have passed on their quality in the breeding shed.  Multiple graded stakes winner Sweetest Chant (1982) is the second dam of top sire Distorted Humor.  Barbarika (1990), herself a two-time graded stakes winner, is the second dam of Hall of Fame inductee Curlin.  D'Wildcat Speed, a dynamo in Puerto Rico who brought her form to Florida with her, produced this year's exciting Queen Mary winner Lady Aurelia.

CURLIN'S APPROVAL comes here off a fourth-place finish in the Raven Run (GII).  But, she has form against older horses earlier in the year, and that form came over the Gulfstream course.  She is fast enough to get a pressing spot, and should be able to prompt the leader (likely GENRE or SCREAMING SKYLAR) and take over into the stretch.  The big question for CURLIN'S APPROVAL is the mile, as she has never gone past seven furlongs.  But, she has extended sprint form at six and a half and seven furlongs, and her breeding suggests a mile will be well within her abilities.  Trainer Martin Wolfson also wins at a solid 38% when stretching runners out to a mile or more for the first time.

Beyond CURLIN'S APPROVAL, it is a pair of Todd Pletcher trainees who make sense here.  GENRE gets the nod between the two.  She is the class of the field, and drops in company from the Spinster (GI) at Keeneland last out.  A mile is on the short side for GENRE, but she does have three wins and a second in six tries, including a victory going one turn at Gulfstream.  Also, among the horses with early speed, she has the tactical outermost position among them.  She is also consistently a bit faster horse than her stablemate ESKENFORMONEY.  Still, ESKENFORMONEY likes the course (4-2-1-1 lifetime), and has run some races that would be good enough to compete here.  Her connections, trainer Todd Pletcher and rider Javier Castellano, make her difficult to count out.  Finally, the cut back to a mile should help her along.  Most of the year she has been going longer than that.  However, a mile may well be her best distance.  She has three wins in 19 career starts, but two of them came in just four one-mile tries.

Selections:

#3 CURLIN'S APPROVAL (5/2)

#6 GENRE (9/5)

#7 ESKENFORMONEY (3/1)

Longshot:  #4 SCREAMING SKYLAR (6/1) has some class to prove.  But, she comes second off the layoff for trainer Jorge Navarro: a 24% winner on the Gulfstream meet so far, and a 31% winner second start off a layoff.  Most of her running has come on turf (10 of her 13 starts), but she has hit the board in two of her three career dirt tries.  SCREAMING SKYLAR missed by just a nose last out at Gulfstream Park West, her first dirt-mile try.  That came at two turns, but she finished in the money going six and a half furlongs on the Santa Anita dirt back in February.  Perhaps a longer one-turn distance will get SCREAMING SKYLAR to put it all together in graded company for the first time.

Race 7: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:01pm EST

This year’s running of the Harlan’s Holiday is the sixth. Inaugurated in 2011, it has always been run at a mile and a sixteenth through the Gulfstream dirt. This year’s renewal is the first that carries a grade. The race takes its name from multi-millionaire Ohio-bred Harlan’s Holiday. He won three Grade I races during the course of his career, and two came at Gulfstream: the 2002 Florida Derby and the 2003 Donn Handicap. The races most accomplished winners have been its most recent. Two years ago Liam’s Map won the Harlan’s Holiday. It was his first career stakes win, but he would go on to take the Woodward (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) the next year. Last year’s winner, Valid, has been a beautiful combination of classy and durable. His 12 wins in 37 starts include four graded stakes, and he went on to finish second in the Donn (GI) this year.


Liam's Map notches his first career stakes victory in the 2014 Harlan's Holiday Stakes.

Though officially named after Harlan's Holiday, this race could just as well be named after trainer Todd Pletcher.  After all, out of a seven-horse field, three runners hail from Pletcher's shedrow.  KEEN ICE, third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last out, is the class of the bunch.  But, Gulfstream is a track that tends to favour more forward placements, which will not help him.  KEEN ICE himself has tried Gulfstream twice, and been off the board both times.  Class should get him to about midpack here, making him logical for the bottom of a trifecta or superfecta.

But, to win?  KEEN ICE's stablemates appeal more.

Both STANFORD and MADEFROMLUCKY come into this race off of extended layoffs, but both have solid worktabs and a strong layoff trainer.  MADEFROMLUCKY gets the slight nod due to his running style.  With STANFORD, AWESOME SLEW, and APPLICATOR all doing their best from the front, MADEFROMLUCKY could trip out.  He can run well on the front, as he showed last out in the Excelsior, but has done most of his best work tracking a few lengths off.  He has successfully been able to do that at Gulfstream, including a second-place finish behind Valid in this race last year.  He has also been solid at the distance, never worse than second in three tries.

STANFORD also has a claim here.  His ability to run competitively fresh off a lay speaks in his favour, and he has a worktab full of bullets leading into this spot.  He also has solid records at Gulfstream and over the distance.  The question for STANFORD is the pace.  Though he has some long-ago races in which he won from just off the pace, he has done his best recent work right on the lead.  STANFORD's ability to keep going in a pace battle is admirable, but with AWESOME SLEW and APPLICATOR in the race, he will not have it easy on the front end.

Looking outside the Pletcher barn for a moment, AWESOME SLEW intrigues.  This will be a class test, as it will be this sophomore's first attempt against older.  But, even though he has speed, he has shown some ability to fight, and even some ability to stalk the pace and stay engaged.  The change away from Paco Lopez is a question, as Lopez has ridden AWESOME SLEW for all seven of his career starts, and Lopez has other rides at Gulfstream on Saturday.  But, Lopez has no ride in the Harlan's Holiday, making it look a calculated move on trainer Edward Plesa's end to give Joel Rosario the leg up.  AWESOME SLEW has been out of the starting gate since September, but has a solid string of works, and fired beautifully off an even longer break earlier this year.  If someone outside Todd Pletcher's barn springs the upset, AWESOME SLEW has the best claim.

Selections:

#2 MADEFROMLUCKY (3/1)

#1 STANFORD (2/1)

#4 AWESOME SLEW (6/1)

Longshot:  Two turns is still a question for lightly-raced #5 HY RIVERSIDE (15/1).  He finished a well-beaten fourth behind Mr. Jordan last out in the Sunshine Millions Classic Preview, his first try going two turns.  But that was out at Gulfstream Park West.  Here HY RIVERSIDE returns to the flagship: a track over which he has three wins and four more money finishes in ten starts.  That last time out was also his first start since late August.  He could take a step forward second off the lay.  HY RIVERSIDE's breeding is also fine for a mile and a sixteenth: by Macho Uno out of a Distorted Humor mare whose only other runner has won at two turns.  And, the pace should suit.  With so much front-end gas in the race, HY RIVERSIDE should be rolling along late at a price.

Race 8: El Prado Stakes, three-year-olds and up, seven and a half furlongs on the turf, post time 3:32pm EST

This year marks the fifth running of the El Prado Stakes.  Originated in 2012 as a turf mile, it has been run at its current seven and a half furlong distance since 2014.  It takes its name from El Prado, an Irish Group I winner who became the predominant source of the Sadler's Wells sire line in North America.  Prominent El Prado sons at stud include Kitten's Joy, Medaglia d'Oro, Paddy O'Prado, and Illinois-bred Fort Prado.  2014 El Prado Stakes winner Mshawish, himself tail-male to El Prado via Medaglia d'Oro, continued on to win the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (GI) in 2015.  He then became a Grade I winner on dirt by winning the Donn the following year.  The first winner of the El Prado Stakes, Nikki's Sandcastle (2012), was also a presence at Arlington.  He had already won the Sea O Erin Handicap over the course in 2011, and won the 2014 Hanshin Cup (GIII) as well.


Mshawish edges clear of Excaper to win the 2014 El Prado Stakes.

Like Stonetastic in the Sugar Swirl, we have a similar question for classy one-way speed HEART TO HEART here: will he get a soft lead?  If so, he would be tough: send from the rail, lead them around, and call it a day.  But, with GO AROUND likely to send (or at least press him hard) everyone else in the field except for REPORTING STAR showing early speed at least semi-regularly?  This does not look a favourable setup for the morning line chalk.  This space will bet that this race will set up much like the Artie Schiller did last out: HEART TO HEART will send, but he'll get pressure early, and not be able to finish the job.  At chalk-to-one, we will look elsewhere.

The 10/1 morning line on SECURITY RISK will not likely hold, but he should still be a solid price given how much money HEART TO HEART stands to take.  Four-year-old SECURITY RISK makes his stakes debut for trainer Shug McGaughey, a trainer who is as patient as anyone with developing a horse and putting them in stakes company when they are ready.  Though he wired a two-other-than last out, he stalked the pace in both of his other victories, proving that he does not need to be on the front.  He does get a rider change from that outing, but John Velazquez has ridden SECURITY RISK before, including in his maiden win.  This horse has a pair of local works leading into this race, including a bullet four-furlong turf move last out, and should be ready to step up against the bigger boys.

Bill Mott sends two in here.  GO AROUND has pace concerns similar to HEART TO HEART.  This space is more interested in the Mott B: SONGSATIONAL.  He has not been the most consistent horse, but when he is good, he fits right in with this field.  And, he has shown the ability to run well when coming off a break.  SONGSATIONAL last raced about two months ago, but has a consistent worktab, and should be ready to fire here.  With form at seven furlongs and a mile, the seven and a half furlong trip should hit SONGSATIONAL right between the eyes.  Though he has form on the front end, he also cleared his N1X from just off the pace.  If he can get that sort of trip here, and let HEART TO HEART and GO AROUND do the dirty work, he could be the one who gets first run.

REPORTING STAR, who won this race last year, will try to become the first repeat winner of the El Prado.  He has been a cut below tougher company than this through the year, and should appreciate the class drop.  The pace should also suit him.  Though he does not typically drop far form the pace, he never gets right on it.  REPORTING STAR should also appreciate the move back to Gulfstream.  In seven starts over the course, he has only missed the board once.  He also returns to the barn of Brendan Walsh after spending the summer with trainer Elizabeth Voss in New York.  He did well with Walsh at Gulfstream last winter; in addition to winning this race, REPORTING STAR also finished second in the Sunshine Millions Turf behind softer-turf maven Manchurian High, and then won the Grade III Appleton over next-out Grade I winner Divisidero.

Selections:

#2 SECURITY RISK (10/1)

#3 SONGSATIONAL (5/1)

#7 REPORTING STAR (8/1)

Longshot:  #5 FLATLINED (10/1) has class to prove, as his only stakes win came in the Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs, a race limited to non-winners of a stakes race in 2016.  But, he has fired off a few races that are competitive with this set.  And, he gets back to a track he likes.  In three tries at Gulfstream, FLATLINED has two wins and a third.  At a mile on the grass, he has been second three times in four starts.  Sometimes FLATLINED sends, other times he doesn't.  He has no shot if he tries to go with HEART TO HEART and GO AROUND, but if rider Joe Bravo can get him to rate and rally, he could get a piece at a price.

Race 10: South Beach Stakes, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, seven and a half furlongs on the turf, post time 4:34pm EST

This year marks the ninth running of the South Beach Stakes, which has always been run as a seven and a half furlong grass race.  2012 winner Romacaca made the last three starts of her career at Gulfstream, but raced frequently in Chicago as well.  She won the Hatoof Stakes in 2009 en route to a second-place finish in the Pucker Up (GIII).  In 2011, she annexed both the Modesty Handicap (GIII) at Arlington and the Indian Maid Handicap at Hawthorne.

This may be an ungraded stakes, but there are enough good horses getting a class break here that it could pass as a bona fide Grade III.  With a few runners who have some speed (mainly CALI THIRTY SEVEN and MIDNIGHT MILEY, though TUTTIPAESI and SANDIVA have also shown it), NECK OF THE MOON should get the perfect setup here.  Though she has never run at Gulfstream, trainer Chad Brown is a sharp 24% with his shippers, and NECK OF THE MOON has hit the board in five of six tries in mile-category turf races.  She also has a second-place finish this spring at seven furlongs, suggesting she can do this slight cutback from a mile.  Finally, her rider could not be hotter: Paco Lopez has started the Gulfstream winter meet by winning at 28% clip.

SANDIVA hails from the hottest barn on the Gulfstream grounds, that of Todd Pletcher.  She has well-proven form over the course; in five starts there, she has three wins and has never been off the board.  She also tends to race well with Javier Castellano in the irons.  On pace, though she has shown some speed, she has enough off-pace form to suggest she won't get sucked into an early duel. The big question with SANDIVA, and what keeps her out of the top slot, is her record in the distance category.  She is 0-9 at a mile, with only three money finishes.  This is a significant class drop from what SANDIVA has been facing in the last two years, but seven and a half panels may prove a bit short for her.

TUTTIPAESI has similar questions as SANDIVA, in that she has a flaky record at the distance.  But, she does have a win at this distance -- she won this race last year, and is aiming to be the first two-time winner of the South Beach.  She also has solid form at Gulfstream, with two wins and two thirds in six tries.  This is a class drop from much of TUTTIPAESI's outings this year, and though she was ninth last out in the E. P. Taylor (GI - CAN), she was only beaten two and a half lengths.  That was a significantly tougher field, and that was a ten-furlong race.  Eight and a half or nine furlongs may be TUTTIPAESI's best, but she has cut back well enough and held her own against such classy horses that she has a shot to repeat here.

Selections:

#6 NECK OF THE MOON (9/2)

#7 TUTTIPAESI (5/2)

#9 SANDIVA (2/1)

Longshot:  #8 DEVILISH LOVE (15/1) has class to prove, as she has spent the year running in Pennsylvania-bred and Maryland-sired company.  But, on speed, her best races are competitive with these bigger-name horses.  DEVILISH LOVE also has a favourable running style, content to track a length or two off the lead and make her move.  She comes in second off a freshening and a barn change, and that first start back was a solid nose win in the Maryland Million Ladies Stakes at Laurel.  That came at a mile and an eighth.  But, she has form going shorter, including a romping win going seven and a half furlongs at Parx back in June.  DEVILISH LOVE will have to bring her best, but if she does, she figures at a price.

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