Csaba Set to Defend His Title in $100,000 Hal’s Hope
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Csaba has compiled an enviable resume during his three years of racing, amassing seven stakes wins and $571,480 in purse earnings. His trainer couldn’t ask for more.Nevertheless, Phil Gleaves suspects that the best may be yet to come from the 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy.
“He’s getting better and better. He’s 5 now. I see a physical change in him,” Gleaves said. “He’s filled out. Horses, they say, physically mature at 5 years-old. This year is the year he hits his physical peak.”
Csaba is scheduled to make his 5-year-old debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Park, favored in the morning-line at 3-1 on the strength of a strong end of his 4-year-old campaign.
Csaba, who followed up a commanding victory in the Fred Hooper (G3) with a second-place finish in the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream on Dec. 22, was cross-entered in Saturday’s $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G3) as a main-track-only entrant. Should the Fort Lauderdale be moved from the turf to the main track, Gleaves said Csaba would run in the 1-1/16-mile stakes instead of the one-turn, one-mile Hal’s Hope.
“It’s twice as much money and two turns, so we’d go there,” Gleaves said. “But the weather tells me it’s going to clear.”
Although Gleaves thinks Csaba is better suited to two-turn racing, he has reason to expect that his multiple-stakes winner will adapt to the one-turn racing Saturday, having saddled him for a victory in last year’s Hal’s Hope.
“I do like turning back in distance. He’s gone from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a sixteenth and now to a mile. So, I have no problem with that. A lot of it will depend on the pace setup. Last year, we did not expect that fast a pace – they went in 44-and-change (for a half mile) – so he was farther back than he normally is and he went on to win,” Gleaves said. “Saturday, I don’t know what to expect, but we’re very tractable.”
Csaba is scheduled to be ridden by Paco Lopez in a 10-horse field that includes Neck n’ Neck, another newly turned 5-year-old who is expected to make his presence felt this year.
The Ian Wilkes-trained horse had a promising 3-year-old campaign concluded with victories in the Indiana Derby (G2) and the Ack Ack Handicap (G3) before suffering an injury that knocked him out of action for 11 months. The son of Flower Alley finished fourth in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream in his second start off the layoff. “He probably needed that race. He’d been off for a long time. He’d been off 11 months and then just had the one race in two months between,” Wilkes said. “Hopefully, now we can get into a rhythm with him. We just need some racing.”
Julien Leparoux is set to ride Neck ‘n Neck for the first time.“My horse is doing good. He’s got to step up and do it now – that’s what he’s got to do,” Wilkes said. “It’s a restart. This whole campaign is a restart. It’s a building program for him. He’s a nice horse; let’s just see where he takes us.”
After stepping up last time out with a victory in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland, Nicki’s Sandcastle figures to offer a big effort Saturday – although it remains to be seen if the David Kassen-trained gelding will run in the Hal’s Hope or one race earlier in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) on turf.
Kassen entered Nikki’s Sandcastle in both of Saturday’s stakes, preferring to run him in the Fort Lauderdale, but prepared to go in the Hal’s Hope.“If there’s a soft turf, I’m going to scratch out of the race (Fort Lauderdale) and run in the other race on the main track. If they take it off the turf, I’ll stay in the race,” Kassen said. “I won’t run him on a soft turf – that’s out of the question with that horse. He ran him on a soft turf twice and he hurt himself twice.”
Nikki’s Sandcastle, who won two stakes on turf at Gulfstream last winter, ran on dirt eight times early in his career, winning one and finishing second three times. The 7-year-old veteran won on a synthetic track for the first time in the Fayette on Oct. 26.
“He ran a huge race. He got in all sorts of trouble. The jock was pulling him up for three quarters of a mile. He had nowhere to go. The horse was trying to run off with him,” Kassen said. “Usually, when you’re swinging on a horse that long, they give it up. But he didn’t. He kept on going. He ran a huge race.”
Also figuring prominently in the Hal’s Hope are: Uncaptured, a multiple-stakes winner who captured the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown (Prince of Wales) last year; millionaire Jackson Bend, who was a close second in the Sunshine State Stakes last time out; Lea, a graded-stakes winner on turf who is scheduled to make his first start for trainer Bill Mott; and Goodtimehadbyall, an impressive winner of the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit on Dec. 7.
Simmstown, Strike One and Purple Egg round out the field.