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Timing's Right For Soldat
By Ed Gray
Who’s going to complain about spending the winter in Florida? Not Kiaran McLaughlin.
The New York-based trainer has spent the past several winters at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training center in Boynton Beach, and he couldn’t more pleased with his stay this year, particularly as it concerns Soldat.
A turf-stakes star last year, Soldat has blossomed into a prominent candidate for the Florida Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Derby (G1) while training at Palm Meadows and racing at Gulfstream. The 3-year-old son of War Front romped to victory by more than 10 lengths in an allowance race over a sloppy Gulfstream surface on Jan. 21, putting him on an ideal schedule to make his way to Churchill Downs on May 7.
Soldat will make his first step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Gulfstream in the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2), the major prep for the April 3 Florida Derby.
“I like to run my horses every five weeks or so, so it’s a perfect program down here. From where he won to this race is five weeks. From this race to the Florida Derby is five weeks and then it five weeks out to the Kentucky Derby. So it’s a perfect program for us,” McLaughlin said.
Soldat’s solid showings in a trio of graded turf stakes last year has afforded his trainer the luxury to set a firm program for his winter campaign, buoyed by the knowledge that his colt already has sufficient graded-stakes earnings ($270,000) to clinch a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s a different situation. So often, you’re chasing graded earnings,” said McLaughlin, glad he can forgo the chore of picking his spots on the basis of earnings potential. “We’re already there. We have enough.”
Not that McLaughlin would be moved to duck too many horses with a colt as talented as Soldat.-
The Kentucky-bred colt, who has handled himself well against the best young turf horses, will receive his toughest main-track test in the Fountain of Youth, which will be run at 1-1/8 miles. Although he easily handled entry-level allowance runners at that distance, his main competitor, To Honor and Serve, has won a pair of Grade 2 stakes, the Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct, at 1-1/8 miles last year. Gourmet Dinner, who finished third in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream last time out, also brings strong stakes experience into the Fountain of Youth, having captured the Delta Jackpot (G3) and a pair of Florida Stallion stakes.
“To Honor and Serve is a very nice horse – a beautiful son of Bernardini who’s in good hands with Bill Mott. He’s the horse to beat for sure.” McLaughlin said. “Gourmet Dinner’s a nice horse who was third behind Dialed In in the Holy Bull. You got to respect both of them.
The Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth and the Holy Bull are first-leg races in the Preakness 5.5 bonus series, which offers $5.5 million in bonuses to the connections of a horse that goes on to capture the Florida Derby and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.
Assuming that sunny weather prevails, the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth will offer Soldat the opportunity to run on a fast main track for the first time. In addition to his recent score in slop, he finished second in the first two starts of his career on off tracks at Belmont Park and Saratoga, before being switch to turf.
“He’s run on dirt three times and has a first and two seconds, so he’s doing well,” McLaughlin said.
Soldat’s broke his maiden on turf in the With Anticipation Stakes (G3) at Saratoga and finished his juvenile season with runner-up finishes in the Pilgrim Stakes (G3) at Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs.
“It’s not to say he won’t ever go back to turf,” McLaughlin said, “but I hope it’s not until next year.”