Saturday's graded stakes action happens at Gulfstream, so that's where Picks and Ponderings turns its attention. The main focus of this piece is the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes, a nine-furlong turf test that takes its name from the city thirteen miles north of Gulfstream Park. We have full analysis of the Fort Lauderdale, and selections for the other four graded stakes on the card published in a table below.
The Fort Lauderdale Stakes began its life in 1947 at a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt, and has been run at a variety of configurations. Most recently, from 2004 through the winter of 2018, it had been run at a mile and a sixteenth on grass; this winter it stretches out to nine furlongs.
Finishing second behind Bug Juice in that inaugural running of the race in 1947 was a mare who lends her name to another stakes racing being run at Gulfstream this Saturday, Rampart. Other prominent winners during its dirt days include 1956 Kentucky Derby winner Needles (1957) and multiple G1-winning sire Skip Trial (1987). Shining stars among its turf-era winners include Gulfstream Park stakes namesake and Arlington Million third-place finisher The Vid (1995), 2012 Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) winner Little Mike (2011), dual-surface G1 winner Mshawish (2015), and durable multiple G1 winner Heart to Heart (2016).
The race drew an overflow field of 14 plus two also-eligible entries to contend for the $200,000 purse. The group includes 2018 Arlington Million (G1) second-place finisher ALMANAAR, 2018 Arlington Handicap (G3) winner DIVISIDERO, 2017 American St. Leger (G3) winner POSTULATION. Also of local interest, the field includes ZULU ALPHA, a horse who spent this summer knocking heads with Cammack in the allowance ranks at Arlington, and went on to win the 2018 Sycamore Stakes (G3) at Keeneland.
Selections for the Fort Lauderdale Stakes and My Charmer Stakes are for turf only. Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. Edited December 14 to add morning lines.
Saturday, December 15 - Gulfstream Park
Race 11: Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G2), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 5:06pm EST
Hear ye! Hear ye! The attempt to make ALMANAAR a miler is over!
In all seriousness, this is exactly where ALMANAAR belongs. His best form has always come in those shorter turf routes for which there's no good Breeders' Cup spot: a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth. He loves a mile and an eighth specifically, and showed good form in his two tries over this love-it-or-hate-it turf course last year. Though there isn't a lot of pace for ALMANAAR to chase, he has shown some versatility in where he can be placed, and does not need torrid fractions in front of him to do his best work. The one concern for ALMANAAR is the weather forecast -- as of Wednesday there is some rain in the forecast for Saturday, and ALMANAAR does fit the profile of a horse who moved to the States to enjoy firmer going. But, if the rain holds off or remains on the lighter side, and the turf stays good to firm? ALMANAAR is going be tough to beat for trainer Chad Brown and jockey Irad Ortiz. Brown has another in this field as well, PROJECTED, who does make sense at his best. But, with PROJECTED having racked up a solid record of taking money and finishing underneath, mostly in fields less difficult than this one? ALMANAAR is the Brown charge we're interested in using on top, and PROJECTED looks the underneath-at-best sort.
Shadwell Stable comes into the Fort Lauderdale loaded. Not only do they own ALMANAAR -- but looking to the shedrow of Kiaran McLaughlin, they also have the intriguing QURBAAN. Campaigned in France for most of his career, QURBAAN has been rock-solid in his pair of US starts: an upset score in the mile and a sixteenth Bernard Baruch (G2) at Saratoga, and a third-place finish when cut back in trip for the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland. Unlike many European horses who moved to America to continue their careers, he has enough form over softer going that the possible rain is not a worry. And, the rider change to Joe Bravo may as well be a flashing neon sign that says, "WATCH THIS HORSE". (Thank goodness the <blink> tag has been deprecated; otherwise, we'd be tempted to use it!) Joe Bravo has this uncanny way of traveling to any track where he has been called and riding lights-out, particularly on the grass. In a race like this, with a huge field and so many closely-matched contenders, QURBAAN's switch to Joe Bravo is a compelling move.
Though DIVISIDERO has tried a range of distances this year -- and proven surprisingly good at all of them -- nine furlongs has been his sweet spot throughout his career. He has six wins in his 22-start career, and three have come in just five tries over this trip. His recent form is strong for this group; his fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) last time out, less than a length behind Expert Eye, testifies to that. On pace, he would like to see someone (most likely BLACKTYPE) take it to GLORIOUS EMPIRE on the front end, though DIVISIDERO has been able to kick on even without an exceedingly quick pace. He has only missed the board once in six tries over the Gulfstream course, making this a smart place to ship. And, given how well he ran at the Breeders' Cup after all the rain that week, the wet forecast should prove no problem for DIVISIDERO if it bears out.
#7 ALMANAAR (10/1)
#4 QURBAAN (5/1)
#10 DIVISIDERO (6/1)
Longshot: #1 GLORIOUS EMPIRE (12/1) was well beaten in the Breeders' Cup Turf last time out, but gets a class drop for this. He also likely gets his preferred race setup. Drawing the rail, he is forced to send -- but the only one in the field who has shown much desire to make the running in recent times is BLACKTYPE, and even he can sit off the pace if he's in a situation when he's better suited not sending. Don't take too short a price -- GLORIOUS EMPIRE will need to bring his best, given that this field is a solid one for the Grade 2 level. But, his best races do make him competitive against these foes in terms of class and speed, and he may have enough late that he'll be tough to reel in.
Below is a spreadsheet with all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's graded stakes at Gulfstream; for any browsers that have difficulty with embedded Google Docs content, a web link is available here.
This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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