IT’S GULFSTREAM TIME! This weekend leading up to Christmas is a teensy bit quiet, but you’d never know it from the enormous field lining up for the El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A mile on the grass, it has attracted some top trainers to enter rising stars— and some returning ones like G1 winner Teaks North!— equating into what looks like a great betting race.
Weather looks promising for a dry(ish) Florida winter day, so the turf ought to stay firm.
$75,000 El Prado Stakes - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on turf at Gulfstream Park. Post Time: Saturday, December 22 at 4:35pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Bad Debt - Kendrick Carmouche, 121 lbs, Michael Trombetta - The Grand Reward gelding attempts to defend his home turf from the rail spot with a pretty nice 2012 record of 3-2-4 in 9 starts— never out of the top three since 2010! He rarely throws clunkers and was just a hair over 2 lengths from beating Little Mike here during this year’s Sunshine Millions Turf. He looks to be in great shape and should be right at home here. There’s definitely a place for him in the exotics.
2) Teaks North - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Rick Dutrow - The Northern Afleet gelding and hero of last year’s United Nations Stakes (I) hopes to bounce back after 2 responseless starts this year off-the-board. He swaps old trainer Sallusto for magician Dutrow who has a way of flipping new trainees’ stats upside down. It’s worth mentioning that Teaks North has won a G1 on the grass at Gulfstream in the past, so while he has some face to save, he does have ample back-class. He works look decent, but I have to ask how good Dutrow is with grass horses. Nevertheless, he takes a drop down in class, a cut in distance, and gets Johnny V— never a bad combo!
3) Get Serious - Elvis Trujilo, 123 lbs, Patrick McBurney - The New York-bred City Zip gelding has shuttled to Florida for the winter with 1 win in 6 starts this year with a scintillating defense of his Red Banks (III) win. While he set the pace in that victory, he was no menace in his Gulfstream debut in an 5-furlong allowance barely a week ago where he ran last of 6. He was too well-beaten in that allowance to give him much credit.
4) Kharafa - Edgar Prado, 119 lbs, Timothy Hills - The New York-bred Kitalpha colt makes his stakes and Florida debut all in the same race, winning twice this year in 8 starts. He won for fun last out on the yielding Aqueduct turf in an allowance, winning by 5 3/4 lengths and doesn’t seem to mind any condition of turf. He was bred for the grass being a grandson of Breeders’ Cup Mile champion Miesque. A fun mystery of a horse, he looks super sharp and I wouldn’t hold his New York-bred status against him. He seems to dig the Gulfstream turf plenty in his breezes!
5) Salto [IRE] - Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The deadly duo of Castellano and Pletcher reappears at Gulfstream with this son of Pivotal [GB]. He was awesome in a Keeneland allowance win this year, whipping the field by 9 lengths on the grass but hung in the stretch when switched to Keeneland’s poly in the 9-furlong Fayette (II) to finish 4th, beaten 3 lengths by good horses. He has yet to win a stakes despite racing well at top level. All signs point to yes for Salto, but my belly button disagrees looking at his rap sheet: failure to get the win in all stakes tries, and many tries there are. He could do it here, but I’ll take someone else, and not just for the sake of getting good value.
6) Tune Me In - Paco Lopez, 123 lbs, Jane Cibelli - The G3-winning gray gelding by Concorde’s Tune steps in after nabbing 2 wins in 6 tries this year, both G3 victories at Monmouth. He likes to run up front and should he get the lead at the break, will set easy fractions before trying to run away. That appears to be his best strategy, but he appears to be a “need the lead” type which I don’t like. Other than that grimace, his stats look great but his Gulfstream record looks abysmal with 2 trailing starts last year.
7) Xin Xu Lin [BRZ] - Joe Bravo, 117 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - An oddball entry of Godolphin-McLaughlin, the 5-year-old Wondertross son made his American debut on the Belmont dirt in October which he faded on after setting the pace despite experiencing G1 success in his native Brazil. His length of loss? 35 1/4 lengths. His turf breezes are nothing to brag about either. I’m expecting 50-1 on this one.
8) Empire Builder - Luis Saez, 116 lbs, Luis Duco - What’s a grass race without a son of Kitten’s Joy? The three-year-old has raced 10 times this year going 3-3-2 on Florida tracks. He looks good and loves to sit just off-the-pace. Weighted by a feather, should he get the trip he desires he has a decent shot at upset.
9) Zimmer - Patrick Husbands, 119 lbs, Pat Byrne - The Empire Maker 6-year-old son boasts 3 wins in 6 starts this year (including one that was a DQ by a nose to a horse who savaged him!) with no such luck in any stakes fray. He’s trying grass again after a 6th in the Ack Ack (III) on dirt, and has wins at this distance. Works look okay, but he’s never been better than 6th in stakes attempts. His best efforts have him forwardly-placed under slow fractions.
10) Beau Choix - Rajiv Maragh, 119 lbs, Barclay Tagg - The Elusive Quality son has some good runs to his back class with grade I & II placings with back-to-back wins in the 2012 and 2011 Rob N Gin Stakes over 7 furlongs at Belmont, the last of which had him out-closing Breeders’ Cup contender Upgrade. He was 3rd last out in the If Winter Comes Stakes at Aqueduct, running late in squeezed conditions to be beaten just a length. Great connections back up this very worthy runner, who is looking better than his 1-for-8 year record suggests. Easy breezes at Palm Meadows.
11) Hoofit [NZ] - Joe Rocco Jr, 117 lbs, Graham Motion - A favorite from last year, the Mossman [AUS] gelding has been winless this year in 7 races, and was 4th last out in Calder’s Tropical Turf Handicap behind 3 other runners in this field while making up ground late. A wildcard, Hoofit’s been improving but it has not been enough to win lately.
12) Hobbs - Eddie Castro, 121 lbs, Kathy Mongeon - The Put It Back sophomore has notched 3 wins and 3 places this year including his win last out in an Aqueduct stakes over Shkspeare Shaliyah and King Kreesa on good turf. His record looks good and he put in a turf bullet and a nice-looking 4-panel breeze on dirt recently.
13) Hollinger [ON] - Jose Lezcano, 117 lbs, Roger Attfield - The gray Black Minnaloushe gelding is no stranger to Florida despite shipping from the cold north, boasting a G1 placing here on the grass losing by a half-length to Get Stormy in the GP Turf Handicap (I). He has no wins for 8 races this year, but 4 places and a third with some good efforts. This gelding likes Gulfstream plenty and has been logging some great works at Payson. Euro-Dynaformer pedigree and top turf rider Lezcano a big plus.
14) Nikki’s Sandcastle - Corey Lanerie, 121 lbs, David Cassen - The Castledale [IRE] gelding and ex-claimer looks tougher than ever following a loss to Newsdad in the La Fayette (I), sporting a record of 3-5-1 in 10 starts this year. He shipped well to Gulfstream, winning an allowance that included the likes of G1 winner King David. A tough competitor, he’ll get the ideal setup here and totes top rider Lanerie.
MAIN TRACK ONLY - 15) Associate - Unlikely going to be rained off the turf, he’ll be competitive on the main obviously but so will Nikki’s Sandcastle, Tell Tale Friend, Zimmer, and perhaps a few others.
ALSO-ELIGIBLE - 16) Tell Tale Friend - Orlando Bocachica, 117 lbs, Allan Hunter - Running 12 times this year, the Harlan’s Holiday gelding finally broke his runner-up streak of 5 times last out to win an allowance-optional claimer at Calder, setting solid fractions to wire the field by a nose. Breezes look good, but I’m not sure how deep his class will go. Likely to help set the pace.
Top Picks in Order:
2) Hollinger [ON]
3) Beau Choix
You could honestly go with multiple sets of picks and you’d probably still have a pretty good opinion, it’s that wide-open. I’m going to favor a horse who looks like he gets it and has the right backing to break through to the top with Kharafa, who has been looking awesome right off the ship and big breakthrough win. Hollinger I like for his connections as well, but he loves to run second and already has a base at Gulfstream which he loves. I like Barclay Tagg’s Beau Choix if he can get a clear run, which I’m sure he can get with top Gulfstream rider Rajiv Maragh.
Value Pick(s): Bad Debt, Empire Builder