Csaba, winner of the 2013 Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III), returns to Gulfstream Park for this year's renewal at one mile on the main track as part of a 10-horse field Jan. 11.
The one-turn Hal's Hope is set for a 5:03 p.m. EST scheduled post as race 10 on the Saturday program, immediately following the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIT) for older horses on turf.
Csaba, who brings an enviable record of 11-3-4 in 26 races with earnings of $571,480, is also entered in the Ft. Lauderdale but would run only if that race is rained off the turf. Trained by Philip Gleaves for Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff, the 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy was second in his most recent start, the Harlan's Holiday Stakes Dec. 22 at Gulfstream. He won the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (gr. III) as the favorite Dec. 7 at Calder Casino & Race Course.
"It's twice as much money and two turns, so we'd go there (in the Ft. Lauderdale)," Gleaves said. "But the weather tells me it's going to clear."
The 121-pound highweight in the Hal's Hope, Csaba, who likes to be forwardly placed, could be in a position to dictate the pace with Paco Lopez assigned to ride from gate 2. Csaba won the Hooper, Harlan's Holiday, and Hal's Hope in succession last year, defeating Pool Play in the latter race by a neck in a blanket finish with Pants On Fire third.
"He's getting better and better. He's 5 now. I see a physical change in him," Gleaves said. "He's filled out. Horses, they say, physically mature at 5 years old. This year is the year he hits his physical peak."
John Oxley's million-dollar earner Uncaptured makes his 4-year-old debut for trainer Mark Casse with Joel Rosario to ride from post 9. The Ontario-bred Lion Heart colt was a graded stakes winner at both 2 and 3 and also captured a Canadian classic, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, in 2013. In his most recent start, the Delta Mile at Delta Downs Nov. 23, he was nosed for second as the favorite.
Simmstown had a pair of romping allowance wins at the mile distance at Gulfstream in 2013 for trainer Mary Wolfson. Silverton Hill's 6-year-old son of Limestone stretches out after capturing the 6 1/2-furlong Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder Dec. 14, earning a 100 Beyer figure. The Virginia-bred Simmstown has the rail with Edgard Zayas aboard.
This could also be a good spot for the veteran Jackson Bend. The nine-time winner of $1,786,750 from 35 starts is seeking to score his first victory since the Carter Handicap (gr. I) in April 2102. The Stanley Gold trainee was second last time out with a 102 Beyer in Gulfstream's Sunshine Stakes for Florida-breds, beaten a half-length by Star Harbour in the seven-furlong test Dec. 8. Javier Castellano has the mount once again on the Jacks or Better Farm homebred, co-owned by Robert LaPenta.
Richard Sherman's homebred Nikki's Sandcastle, who is also entered in the Ft. Lauderdale, makes his first appearance since a 1 1/4-length upset score Oct. 26 in the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) on the Keeneland Polytrack.
Trainer David Kassen said he'd prefer to run Nikki's Sandcastle in the Fort Lauderdale, but is prepared to go in the Hal's Hope.
"If there's a soft turf, I'm going to scratch out of the race (Fort Lauderdale) and run in the other race on the main track. If they take it off the turf, I'll stay in the race," Kassen said. "I won't run him on a soft turf—that's out of the question with that horse. He ran him on a soft turf twice and he hurt himself twice."
$100,000 Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:03 p.m.), 4 & up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Simmstown (VA), E J Zayas, 117, M D Wolfson
2. Csaba (KY), P Lopez, 121, P A Gleaves
3. Strike One (KY), C J Lanerie, 117, B P Walsh
4. Jackson Bend (FL), J Castellano, 117, S I Gold
5. Nikki's Sandcastle (KY), A Jaen, 121, D C Kassen
6. Lea (KY), L Saez, 117, W I Mott
7. Neck 'n Neck (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, I R Wilkes
8. Goodtimehadbyall (KY), K Carmouche, 117, J Navarro
9. Uncaptured (ON), J Rosario, 117, M E Casse
10. Purple Egg (KY), J Rocco Jr., 117, J Cibelli