Three-year-olds enjoyed a big day in a pair of Grade 3 events at Calder last weekend, and might do so again Friday as the Tropical meet concludes with the 2012 renewals of the Grade 3, $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap and Grade 3, $100,000 La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares.
The 1 1/8-mile Tropical Turf, which attracted a competitive field of 11, might be ripe for the picking by the multiple stakes-winning sophomore Empire Builder. Although untested in graded stakes company, the Kitten's Joy colt is three-for-four over the local lawn and has the company lines to suggest he could factor despite the rise in class.
Owned and conditioned by Luis Duco, Empire Builder endured his only Calder turf defeat two back in the September 15 Needles, where he finished second by a neck to Mucho Mas Macho. That rival finished an upset second to another three-year-old, Twilight Eclipse, in last Saturday's Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap. Empire Builder enters the Tropical Turf off a distant second in the off-the-turf Tropical Park Derby won by Csaba, who dead-heated for the win in last Saturday's Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap.
Trainer Roger Attfield will take another swing at the Tropical Turf with Hollinger, who finished third in the 2011 edition of the race. The five-year-old gray has not reached the winner's circle this year but has come close on several occasions, including the Grade 2 King Edward at Woodbine and last February's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Attfield also saddles Good Better Best, a multiple stakes-placed Canadian-bred who has never run worse than second in five turf attempts.
Citrus Kid, Grade 1-placed in the Jamaica Handicap two seasons ago, could be one of the betting favorites despite not having run in 14 months. The John Terranova trainee won twice at the allowance level in 2011, but has been absent since a runner-up finish in the PTHA President's Cup at Parx Racing last September.
Alley Oop Oop has made just two of his 19 career starts on grass, but appears to have found his calling on the surface. An allowance winner over the Calder infield September 27, the four-year-old came back to finish third by a neck in the Bonnie Heath Turf Cup earlier this month despite being carried out.
Others of note in the Tropical Turf lineup are Dannhauser, upset winner of the Laurel Turf Cup over 1 1/2 miles; Philly Ace, a Pennsylvania-bred stakes winner who finished third in the Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap last out; multiple Grade 3-placed Sleepless Knight, who has struggled in allowances and listed stakes this term; and Grade 3 winner Hoofit, who has tended to prefer synthetic surfaces since his importation from New Zealand.
Ciao Bella, one of a trio of sophomores in the 1 1/2-mile La Prevoyante, enters with plenty of upside for trainer Todd Pletcher. The five-race veteran was a solid fourth in the Grade 1 Garden City in her turf debut September 15, and then was a sharp second to older Upperline in the October 21 Dowager at Keeneland over 12 furlongs.
The potential favorite in the La Prevoyante is the Christophe Clement-trained Havant. A Group 3 winner in England at two, the Halling filly returned over the summer from a one-year spell to finish second in two minor events in France and last time rallied from the rear of the field to finish fifth in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.
The Darley homebred Centring, whose three-year-old campaign was wiped out due to infirmities, made a belated first appearance in the winner's circle at Saratoga in July and enters Friday's race following a four-length off-the-turf allowance win at Belmont Park. With multiple Belmont stakes winners close up in her family tree, the 1 1/2-mile trip should pose no barrier to the relatively unexposed filly.
Clarinet enters off an upset win in the about 1 1/2-mile Flaming Page at Woodbine in her debut for trainer Josie Carroll. The five-year-old is out of a half-sister to 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick.
Perhaps hoping for washout is My Pal Chrisy, who dominated the Elmer Heubeck Distaff on dirt last time but who finished up the track in her only previous turf attempt.