Duke of Mischief, a multiple graded stakes winner of more than $1.9 million, is set to make his return after an absence of eight months in the Harlan's Holiday Stakes Dec. 16 at Gulfstream Park.
The 6-year-old son of Graeme Hall is part of a strong hand for trainer David Fawkes in the $100,000 event at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Fawkes is also expected to enter Cash Rules, who will be bidding for a fifth consecutive stakes victory.
Duke of Mischief has not been out since posting a strong second to Caixa Eletronica in the $1 million Charles Town Classic (gr. II) in West Virginia April 14. Owned by Alex and Joann Lieblong and partners, the chestnut horse has started just three times this year.
“We stopped on him after the Charles Town race with some minor problems,” said Fawkes Dec. 7. “It was nothing serious. Then we did something a little different. We took him to Niall Brennan’s place in Ocala for therapy where he exercised on a walking machine set underwater in a pool. They have to walk against the weight of the water. It obviously did him a lot of good as well as he’s come back. This race is just a starting point for him.”
Duke of Mischief ran fifth in the 2011 Harlan's Holiday and has lost six straight since taking last year's Charles Town Classic. He has worked well for his return, most recently drilling five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 flat Dec. 2 at Gulfstream, best of 17 moves at the distance.
Cash Rules will get plenty of attention as well. Larry Fugate's 5-year-old son of Peace Rules has been on fire during a campaign that began at Gulfstream with a fifth-place finish in an allowance sprint March 11. It was his first start since December 2010.
He comes into his next start off four stakes wins at Calder Casino & Race Course, including his first graded victory in the Spend a Buck Handicap (gr. III) Oct. 13.
“He was out with a knee injury and it took a lot longer than we thought to get him back,” said Fawkes. “He had shown ability early in his career and now he’s living up to what we hoped he could become, improving steadily with each start.”
Luis Saez has ridden Cash Rules in all nine of his starts this year, including the Carl Rose Classic last out Nov. 10.
As for expectations after the Harlan’s Holiday if all goes well, Fawkes said: “We’ll probably stay with Florida-breds for the Sunshine Million Classic (Jan. 19) as the next step, with the Charles Town Classic a possibility for both of them. You hate to run them against each other, but it’s the best schedule for them.”
The purse for the April 20 Charles Town Classic has been raised to $1.5 million.