Saez Rides to the Top With Csaba in Hal’s Hope
Phil Gleaves stood in the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle Sunday with every reason to feel good about the training job that had Csaba well-prepared for a fourth-straight stakes victory in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3). Yet, he knew that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to celebrate his streaking 4-year-old colt’s gritty triumph in the one-mile stakes without the masterful ride by Luis Saez.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to Luis Saez. He’s a brilliant rider. He’s going to do great in New York,” Gleaves said. “He’s one of the best riders in the country.”
Saez, who claimed the top spot in the Gulfstream jockey’s standings with his fourth victory of the day, earned the high praise with strong and smart handling of the son of Kitten’s Joy, who closed with a rush to score by a neck.
Csaba certainly didn’t look like a winner while unable to gain a good position just off the pace along the backstretch, outrun by Good Morning Diva, Associate, Scatman, Pants on Fire and Delegation during a spirited first half-mile.
“My first impression was that I thought he was kind of struggling down the backside. I thought he’d be laying close and going easier, but the fractions were solid, obviously,” Gleaves said.
Saez, who leads defending champion Javier Castellano in the standings by one victory (33-32), didn’t give up, continuing to encourage his 9-5 favorite to the top of the stretch. With a wall of horses in front of him, the 20-year-old rising riding sent Csaba to the inside, where the Cary Shapoff and Bruce Hollander’s colt made a late surge to get to the finish line just in time.
"I tried to put my horse second or third. When we came to the 3/8ths, I didn't think we'd win, but coming down the stretch I saw a little hole on the inside and we went for it,” Saez said. “When I asked him, he gave me everything."
Pool Play, ridden by Miguel Mena, also benefitted from the hotly contested pace to close from last to finish second, another neck ahead of Pants on Fire and jockey Paco Lopez.
Csaba, who was coming off a 3 ¾ -length victory in the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream on Dec. 16, ran one mile in 1:35.69 to collect his eighth victory in 17 starts, as well as the $60,000 winner’s share of the purse.
“He’s certainly bearing out now what we felt about him last year,” said Gleaves, a former assistant to the legendary Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens. “We wanted to go on the Derby trail last year and ran him in the Fountain of Youth trying to do that. It didn’t pan out, but we’ve always thought highly of him and he’s showing it now.”
Gleaves said Csaba would likely race next in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream on Feb. 9.
The 1-1/8-mile handicap is also the goal for Pool Play.
"His biggest problem is that he gets too far out of it early on in these races, so to cut him back at a mile. We were hoping to put a little more speed into him before he runs in the Donn Handicap, which is the ultimate goal,” said Norm Casse, trainer Mark Casse’s son and assistant trainer. “It set up perfect for us. He wasn't sitting close, but he'll show more speed next time going a mile and an eighth. The pace set up for him to make a big run today, but the goal is to run well in the Donn Handicap and I think we achieved what we needed to do today.”