Sweetnorthernsaint and Strong Contender, often in the spotlight as 3-year-olds last year, meet for the first time Saturday as the favorites in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Handicap (gr. III), which drew 13 entrants on opening weekend at Gulfstream Park.
They will share top weight of 120 pounds in the one-mile main track test highlighting a three-stakes program that will also include renewals of the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf and the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III) at six furlongs. All three events are for 4-year-olds and up.
Joseph Balsomo and Ted Theos’ Sweetnorthernsaint, with regular rider Ramon Dominguez aboard, may be the choice on recent form after dominating scores at Laurel Park and Delaware Park in the fall, his first starts since finishing second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) behind Bernardini at Pimlico in May.
Sweetnorthernsaint, a dark bay gelding by Sweetsouthernsainttrained by Michael Trombetta, burst on the national scene in the spring when romping home a 9½-length winner of the Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne in Chicago in April.
That performance sent Sweetnorthernsaint into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) as the lukewarm favorite at more than 5-1, but he finished seventh behind Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro.
Jockey Edgar Prado rejoins John Oxley’s Strong Contender for trainer John Ward as the chestnut colt by Maria’s Mon makes his first start since capturing the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 23.
Strong Contender began his 3-year-old campaign with an allowance victory over the Gulfstream track in February.
$100,000 Hal’s Hope Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 5:10 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Indy Wind (KY), 114, Rosemary Homeister, Jr.
2. Rexson's Rose (FL), 112, Rajiv Maragh
3. Sweetnorthernsaint (FL), 120, Ramon Dominguez
4. Yes Yes Yes (FL), 113, Christopher DeCarlo
5. Chatain (KY), 112, Cornelio Velasquez
6. Strong Contender (KY), 120, Edgar Prado
7. Istan (KY), 113, Joe Bravo
8. Rehoboth (FL, 116, Manoel Cruz
9. Sir Greeley (KY), 118, John Velazquez
10. Ecclesiastic (KY), 113, Eddie Castro
11. Big Lover (FL), 114, Javier Castellano
12. Carrots Only (NJ), 114, Tom Turner
13. Edenwold (ON), 115, Rafael Bejarano