2019 Hal's Hope Stakes Preview

Racing may still be on hiatus in Chicago for another three weeks, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t following locals in big races.  This Saturday’s card at Gulfstream is anchored by the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3), a race that marks the four-year-old debut of Illinois-bred rising star Sir Anthony.

Sir Anthony (7) races into the first turn in the 2017 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne. (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

Sir Anthony (7) races into the first turn in the 2017 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne. (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

The son of Mineshaft, owned by breeder Richard Otto Stables and trained by Anthony Mitchell, showed talent from the outset. He hit the board in a pair of Illinois-bred stakes earlier in his career, finishing second beaten a neck in both the 2017 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne and the 2018 Springfield Stakes at Arlington.

Since his rail-running, 35/1 stunner in the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes on last year’s Arlington Million undercard, he has stayed in top form.  He followed that stakes win at Arlington up with a pair of allowance wins at Hawthorne, and then rode the fence from last to first in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (G3) over a sloppy Gulfstream track in December.   In that last victory, he turned heads all over the country, since he staved off third-place Kentucky Derby finisher Audible.  Brian Hernandez, Jr., who gave Sir Anthony that heads-up ride two months ago, returns to the saddle for the Hal’s Hope.

With Audible’s connections evaluating the Dubai World Cup, Sir Anthony won’t have that rematch.  However, he faces a challenging field that includes multiple G1-placed millionaire Breaking Lucky, Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip, and a pair of Audible’s stablemates in the Todd Pletcher barn, Copper Town and Prince Lucky.

Gulfstream Park – Saturday, February 23, 2019

Race 11: Hal’s Hope Stakes, four-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:58pm EST

This year marks the 29th running of the Hal’s Hope Stakes, formerly the Hal’s Hope Handicap, and before that the Creme Fraiche Stakes.  The race’s original namesake, Creme Fraiche, was a hickory gelding who earned over $4 million in 64 starts through the age of 7.  He shone at age 3, winning the Belmont Stakes (G1), American Derby (G1), Jerome Handicap (G1), and Super Derby (G1) in 1985.  His biggest win in Florida came in 1986, when he won the Donn Handicap (G2).

In 2003, the race was renamed for Florida-bred Hal’s Hope. He won both the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) and the Florida Derby (G1) in 2000; two years later, the Harold Rose trainee won both the Creme Fraiche Handicap (G3) and the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1).  Beyond Hal’s Hope, other notable winners of this race over the years include 1996 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Louis Quatorze (1997), four-time G1 winner and current top-flight sire Quality Road (2010), and two-surface G1 winner Mshawish (2016).

The field of nine that entered to compete for this $100,000 purse features an intriguing mix of proven older horses, four-year-olds laid off since their sophomore spring or summer, and newer faces trying to make an impact in the handicap division.

Going into this winter I was dubious about BREAKING LUCKY at just a mile, since so much of his form has come over nine furlongs, but BREAKING LUCKY has been strong in a pair of one-turn mile starts this winter at Gulfstream. He trounced an allowance field over a dry track in December, then finished second last month in a sloppy Fred Hooper (G3) behind Aztec Sense, a horse who has won nine straight.  In both raced, he showed tactical speed, settling close to the pace but not just on it.  With others who show more desire to be right on the pace (WILD SHOT and COPPER TOWN, namely, and perhaps QUIP), BREAKING LUCKY should be able to sit just off of them, get first run, and prove difficult to thwart in the lane.

With enough horses who like to be on or near the pace to make an honest pace in this race, SIR ANTHONY should get a fair shake for his one-run style.  Though Gulfstream can be a bit speed-friendly, it’s always a plus to see that a horse has been able to close there, and he did in the Harlan’s Holiday.  The cutback in distance should also suit him perfectly.  As good as he has been in his last three starts, all at two turns on dirt, his pair of one-turn mile starts at Arlington are strong enough to prove that he can be effective over this trip once again.  Finally, it’s still a few days out, but there is currently a chance of rain for Saturday.  If that comes through, SIR ANTHONY won’t be worried — after all, he won the Harlan’s Holiday over a sloppy Gulfstream course.

TALE OF SILENCE has not raced since last winning the Westchester (G3) at Belmont last May, but the lightly-raced five-year-old always seems to bounce back off of layoffs and run like the same old horse.  The one-turn mile suits him beautifully; two of his three career wins have come at the trip. Though both of those came at Belmont, his form at Gulfstream has been respectable, with three money finishes in four tries.  TALE OF SILENCE is proven to handle a rail draw, and he is tactical enough to sit relatively close to the pace or drop well back, depending on what the pace of the race demands.  With the layoff he will be a price, but TALE OF SILENCE is a cozy fit for this spot.

Selections:

#3 BREAKING LUCKY (2/1)
#8 SIR ANTHONY (20/1)
#1 TALE OF SILENCE (5/1)

Longshot:  Sometimes handicapping without a morning line steals the longshot writer’s thunder, as it did this time around.  However, we will point out another horse who might just slip under the radar.  QUIP is the returning four-year-old who is getting a bit more of the chatter, though this space takes more of a shine to #9 PRINCE LUCKY (8/1).  The one-turn mile should suit him well — though he has never tried it, he is a winner both at a seven-furlong trip as well as a one-turn mile and a sixteenth. The running style appeals as well; he can sit in striking range, but can be trusted not to engage right on the pace, and is just versatile enough to be likely to work out a good trip from the outside gate.  And, trainer Todd Pletcher excels with layoff horses — he wins 31% of the time with horses laid off more than ninety days, and PRINCE LUCKY himself has a dependable worktab stretching back to December. Reunited with rider John Velazquez, he should be ready.

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