Anstu Stables' Balto Star, tough to beat when he runs his best, and Richard Violette Jr.'s Man From Wicklow, who knows how to win going long on the local grass, top a field of eight in Sunday's $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) at a mile and three-eighths on the turf.
This is the 19th edition of the event, which is the first Grade I turf handicap run in the nation. Seven of the horses are eligible for the $150,000 winner's share of the full purse, which is composed of $150,000 from Gulfstream and $100,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund. Team Victory I's Hard Buck, a Brazilian-bred, is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup portion of the purse.
Balto Star, trained by Todd Pletcher, will be looking for his third straight victory in a turf stakes, following scores in the Red Smith (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct in November, and the McKnight (gr. IIT) at Calder in December.
The 6-year-old son of Glitterman
has run some big races and some bad races since he became a full-time turf horse, ranging from a victory in the Grade I United Nations Handicap last July to a last-place finish in the Grade I Sword Dancer last August.
Balto Star will be the starting highweight Sunday at 122, with John Velazquez again in the irons. The gelding toted 120 when he won in New York, and 121 when he scored at Calder.
Man From Wicklow, trained by owner Rick Violette, was out for eight months when he made his seasonal debut in the Sunshine Millions Turf here on Jan. 24. The mile and a sixteenth was much shorter than he likes to go, but the 7-year-old gelding never lifted a hoof as he finished last of 11 as the favorite.
Last year he woke up when sent long on the grass, taking the mile and a half McKnight as a prep for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, in which he drew off to score by more than four lengths over Just Listen. In his other two 2003 starts, he was second in the Pan American Handicap (gr. IIT) here and second in the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland in April.
Man From Wicklow has been training at Palm Meadows and should be ready for this assignment. He carries 118 with Jerry Bailey back aboard after taking off in the last to ride in California.
On the early line, Balto Star is listed as the 5-2 favorite in the highly competitive event, with Man From Wicklow at 3-1.
Co-third choices at 5-1 are Brushwood Stable's Kicken Kris, 118, Javier Castellano, and Jeri and Sam Knighton's Request for Parole, 116, Jose Santos.
Michael Matz trains Kicken Kris, who was two-for-two at Gulfstream last year. The 4-year-old had a very solid 3-year-old season, winning the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park, and the Lawrence Realization (gr. III) at Belmont. He was shipped to the West Coast for the Grade I Hollywood Derby in November. In that mile and a quarter turf test, the colt ran third behind Sweet Return, beaten one length as the favorite.
Request for Parole has come out running this year for trainer Stanley Hough. The 5-year-old won an allowance event by a nose on Jan. 11, and proved that was no fluke when he came back to take the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap on Jan. 25. He's been training steadily at Palm Meadows for his first foray into Grade I company.
Hard Buck has proved to be strictly a turf horse for Ken McPeek. Hehas won eight of 12 career starts on grass, but is zero for two on the main track. His most recent outing came in the Canadian Turf Handicap, which was shifted to the sloppy main track. Hard Buck did not appear to appreciate the going at all, finishing fourth of six.
He should appreciate this return to the green, and gets Edgar Prado back in the boot at 117 pounds.
The others entered are Rich Meadow Farms' Slew Valley, 117, Jorge Chavez; Mansell Stables' Quest Star, 115, Rene Douglas; and Trilogy Stables' Magic Mecke, 114, Eibar Coa.