Gulfstream Park News & Notes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has four Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer, and he is scheduled to visit Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18 to collect the Eclipse Award of Merit during the 43rd Eclipse Awards Ceremony in the Sport of Kings facility.
The 78-year-old had a throwback season in 2013, winning the Preakness Stakes (G1) with Oxbow in May, before guiding Will Take Charge through a second-half surge that put him at the top of contenders for 3-year-old championship honors. The towering colt is a finalist in that category along with Orb and Palace Malice, and also has a shot at the Horse of the Year statuette behind defending titlist Wise Dan and Mucho Macho Man.
There is a chance the newly minted 4-year-old will kick off 2014 in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream in early February, though Lukas also mentioned the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) four weeks later as another option.
“The Donn is still a possibility,” Lukas said. “We still have a couple of weeks to decide. We’d like to come and it would certainly be great for Gulfstream, especially if Mucho Macho Man were to show up, too.”
Will Take Charge defeated his peers in the Travers Stakes (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2), then came up a whisker short of Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The flashy chestnut completed his campaign by edging Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap (G1), and will likely become the first sophomore to capture the Eclipse without hitting the board in any of the Triple Crown events. He was compromised by traffic trouble in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and Lukas acknowledged that the Unbridled’s Song colt became a consistent performer after finally maturing.
“He was so big and growthy that it just took him awhile to put it all together mentally and physically, but more physically,” Lukas remarked. “He’s 17 hands and he’s really filled out. He’s become a man.”
A son of the multi-millionaire Take Charge Lady, Will Take Charge is wintering at Oaklawn Park. He breezed five-eighths in 1:03 1/5 on Jan. 2, and will step up the pace shortly.
“We’ll breeze on Saturday or Sunday—we’ve got some rain up here and I’d like it to be perfect for him,” Lukas added. “He’s been training every day and he’s doing great.”
Walsh Hopes to ‘Strike’ Gold in Hal’s Hope.
Strike One is set to take a giant step up in class in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope, but the late-developing 5-year-old has taken huge strides forward in recent starts. The son of Street Cry, who began his 2013 season with a maiden victory at Churchill Downs on May 4, finished off his campaign with back-to-back allowance victories at Churchill.
“Everything has come together for him the last couple months. I brought him down here with this race in mind and said, ‘If he’s doing real good, I’ll run him. If not, I’ll back off,’” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “He’s working super, so it’s worth giving it a shot.”
Strike One’s early career has been interrupted frequently with physical issues.
“It was just a bunch of small things – immaturity more than anything, stuff that’s caused by immaturity. His owner’s been fantastic and has let me be patient with him. We’ve always thought he had talent. It’s just the last three months that he’s turn inside-out and everything has fallen into place,” Walsh said. “Everything’s come together for him.”
Strike One didn’t race until June of his 3-year-old season, which was halted after three starts before returning the next year to win at first asking. “He was never in training at 2 and he came to me at 3. I always thought he had a ton of talent. The first time we ran him, he ran OK, but then we just couldn’t get him right. We gave him more time off and brought him down here last spring and we managed to get him going right,” said Walsh, who is stabled at Palm Meadows. Corey Lanerie, who has been aboard Strike One for all three of his victories, has the return mount in the Hal’s Hope, in which he is set to clash with defending champion Csaba, the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 10 entered in the one-turn mile. Howe Great Seeks Return to Winner’s Circle in Fort Lauderdale
For only the second time since earning the lone graded-stakes victory of his career, Howe Great returns to Gulfstream Park looking to rejuvenate his form in Saturday’s $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2).
A 5-year-old son of Japanese-bred Hat Trick, Howe Great won four of his first five lifetime starts, including three straight on Gulfstream’s turf course. Former trainer Graham Motion saddled him for back-to-back stakes wins in the 2012 Kitten’s Joy and Palm Beach (G2).
Now trained by Rick Mettee for Team Valor International, Howe Great has won only twice since, including the 2012 Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park, but has placed in seven graded stakes. He finished seventh of 10 in the Canadian Turf (G3) at Gulfstream last winter.
“He tries hard every time,” Mettee said. “He’s run well on the turf previously here. He’s a stakes winner over the course, so we think we’ll get a good race out of him again Saturday. That’s what we’re hoping. It would be a nice race to win.”
Howe Great went 1-for-8 last year, but was second in four Grade 3 stakes: the Poker, the Oceanport and Knickerbocker handicaps, and the Cliff Hanger, the latter to Fort Lauderdale program favorite Summer Front.
“We know it’s a tough race. Summer Front is going in there, and he on his best day is better than us on our best day. It’s just that simple,” Mettee said. “[Howe Great] has been freshened up a little bit, and worked real well here. We expect a good race out of him on Saturday.”
In last start, Howe Great was seventh, beaten only four lengths by Imagining in the Red Smith Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct on Nov. 16. He has been based at Palm Meadows since.
“We’re just going to see how he runs and then we’ll make a decision whether we go on with him and try to run him all winter here, or whether we give him a bit of a break,” Mettee said. “It’s a long year and there’s plenty of these middle-distance grass races. It’s just a question of being in the right one at the right time. Hopefully, Saturday will be our time.”
Mucho Mas Macho Looks for Repeat Upset in Fort Lauderdale
A year after upsetting the Fort Lauderdale at odds of 41-1, Mucho Mas Macho is giving trainer Henry Collazo a sense of déjà vu.
“He’s doing good. He’s coming along really nicely and peaking at the right time,” Collazo said. “This is his time of the year, his season. We pointed and he was peaking last year, and this year we’ve just been pointing for this since the beginning of Gulfstream. Everything’s going good and according to plan.”
The Fort Lauderdale is the lone graded stakes win for both horse and trainer. He has gone 0-for-5 since, finishing fifth in both the Pan American (G2) and Miami Mile Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream, and third in his most recent try, the Laurel Turf Cup on Sept. 21 at Laurel Park.
“He’s never had a pimple. He’s always been a joy,” Collazo said. “From the first time I saw him in the stall before I bought him, he was alert and playful and had the right kind of attitude. At the same time, he’s got the business end of it, too. He knows when it’s time to go to work. The rest of the time he’s just a happy camper.”
Collazo is hoping enough pace will develop in front of Mucho Mas Macho to set up his typical late kick. In last year’s race, he was next-to-last before unleashing a run to get up by a neck at the wire.
“If we’re boxing, then I’ll be looking at their style,” Collazo said. “But we’re racing, so it’s basically the luck of the trip and who’s got something left at the end. My style is not going to change by the company I keep. I believe his best opportunity to win is coming from behind. All I can hope for is y’all have a good time on the front end and I say, ‘yay’ at the eighth pole as I’m blowing by you. I’m going to come from behind; that’s his game.”