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Csaba Shakes Off Pre-Race Jitters to Win Harlan’s Holiday
A quick glance at Csaba’s recent past performance lines left little doubt that the Phil Gleaves-trained 3-year-old had the speed and quality to win Sunday’s $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday.
However, leading up to the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, his connections would probably have felt a little more confident if the stakes were run at Calder, where Csaba won back-to-back stakes in his last two starts. The gelded son of Kitten’s Joy hasn’t performed at his best after shipping for a race, and even the short distance from Calder raised questions about his readiness to run his best.
“I was a little bit (nervous about shipping from Calder),” Gleaves said. “He got a little nervous in the receiving barn, and that’s always a concern. He was a bit nervous in the paddock, as well, and he got a little sweaty out in the post parade, But it didn’t seem to bother him much.”
Indeed, Csaba, who had won the Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths and notched a dead-heat triumph in the Fred Hooper (G3) in his last two, was focused on running Sunday in the Harlan’s Holiday. The beneficiary of a dream trip under jockey Luis Saez, Csaba posted his third-straight stakes victory, scoring by 3 ¾ lengths over Delegation, the 2-1 second betting choice ridden by John Velazquez.
Sent to post as the 9-2 third choice, the Kentucky-bred gelding saved ground behind longshot pacesetter I’m Steppin’ It Up, who was pressed by 8-5 favorite Scatman around the first turn and along the backstretch. As the tiring pacesetter left an opening along the rail on the turn into the homestretch, Saez sent Csaba through the hole to grab the lead that he would widen to the finish line.
"I liked this horse as a baby and I knew he'd win this race. In the stretch I had a little trouble with horses in front of me and I had to go to the rail, but he won easy,” Saez said. “He continues to improve with each race."
Delegation, who had finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last time out, finished 3 ½ lengths clear of Cash Rules, the third-place finisher ridden by Javier Castellano. Scatman, ridden by Joel Rosario, faded to fifth.
Csaba ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.51 to earn $60,000 for his seventh victory in 16 career starts for Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff.
“He ran a great race and sat off a decent pace. One thing I noticed is that he didn’t change leads in the stretch, so I’m going to have to work at that,” Gleaves said. “But he ran a good race.”
Gleaves won’t be nearly as concerned the next time Csaba runs at Gulfstream.
“I wouldn’t mind turning him back to a one-turn mile and run him back in the Hal’s Hope (at Gulfstream on Jan. 13),” said the former assistant to Hall of Famer Woody Stephens. “but we’ll see.”