Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is likely to send out the favorites in both events run at 1 3/8 miles on the lawn. The Mac Diarmida goes as race 10 with an approximate post time of 5:05 p.m. EST, preceded two races earlier by the 4:05 p.m. EST The Very One.
"Team Mott" consists of James Karp's 5-year-old Newsdad and Wachtel Stable and partners' 4-year-old Irish-bred Amira's Prince in the Mac Diamida, with The Very One featuring Juddmonte Farm's 5-year-old Starformer.
"Amira's Prince has run two good races over the course and it's time to get the new season started for Newsdad and Starformer," said Mott, who will also have the favorite in the third stakes of the weekend when he sends out Besilu Stable's two-time Eclipse champion Royal Delta in the $100,000 Sabin (gr. III) Feb. 17. "They've all trained well at Payson (Park)."
Jockey Jose Lezcano rides Newsdad from post 2 as he makes his first start since winning the Oct. 27 Fayette Stakes (gr. II) on Keeneland Polytrack over Nikki's Sandcastle. A Kentucky homebred by Arch, Newsdad has demonstrated he likes the Gulfstream course and long-distance events, finishing second by a nose in the Mac Diarmida last year and winning the Pan American Stakes (gr. IIT).
John Velazquez gets the call on Amira's Prince from post 9 as he makes his third start of the meet and third in the U.S. after racing in Ireland and England. The son of Teofilo posted one win and two seconds in seven starts overseas and has won both of his races at Gulfstream in allowance company going 1 3/8 miles Dec. 22 and 1 1/2 miles Jan. 19.
Nikki's Sandcastle, who finished fourth last out as the favorite behind longshot Mucho Mas Macho in the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIT) going 1 1/16 miles Jan. 12, will be viewed as another top contender. The 6-year-old gelding was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths for it all in a good try with trouble in the race after a pair of stakes victories earlier in the meet for owner Richard Sherman and trainer Dave Kassen.
Corey Lanerie will be back aboard the homebred son of Castledale; they teamed up to score in the Claiming Crown Emerald and El Prado Stakes before the Ft. Lauderdale. The big question will be if he handles the distance as he goes a furlong beyond his longest try; he finished seventh in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) last summer at Arlington Park.
"That was actually one of his best races," Kassen said of the Ft. Lauderdale. "He came out of the two-hole and got way back early, then circled 10-wide after getting back to next-to-last before he got clear and came on to get beat only a length-and-a-quarter.
"This race will be a real test for the distance. He's never been this far. His one race at a mile-and-a-quarter in the Arlington Handicap he had an excuse. He was running along comfortably in second and backed up to seventh. He came back dead lame, three-legged lame, and actually needed a ride back to the barn in the horse ambulance.
"We went over him and couldn't find anything and he was fine a few days later. We figure he just must have stepped on something. The jockey thinks he'll go the distance, so we'll see. He's versatile. Going longer, I would think, he'll race up closer to the pace"
West Point Thoroughbreds' 4-year-old Purim gelding Twilight Eclipse, a first-time graded stakes winner of the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) for trainer Tom Albertrani Nov. 24, Resolute Group's 6-year-old gelding Teaks North from the barn of Michelle Nevin, and Team Block's 6-year-old Ioya Bigtime for trainer Chris Block are also certain to attract attention.
Teaks North is a two-time grade I winner after posting victories in the 2011 Gulfstream Turf Handicap and United Nations Invitational at Monmouth Park when trained by Justin Sallusto. The son of Northern Afleet spent most of 2012 on the sidelines but started 2013 on the right note with a wire-to-wire win in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf by 2 1/2 lengths Jan. 19.
Ioya Bigtime has been a steady long-distance turf stakes performer for the last couple of seasons and makes his first appearance since finishing fourth as the favorite in the 12-furlong W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IT) at Calder Casino & Race Course Nov. 24.
Team Valor International's Lucky Chappy seeks his first U.S. victory for trainer Graham Motion in the Mac Diarmida while making his 10th start since being imported from Italy. The 4-year-old son of High Chaparral has been stakes placed in six of those starts, including second-place finishes the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) and Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) last year.
"He's a hard-knocking horse who's always right there," Motion said. "He just hasn't been lucky enough to win one."
In his most recent start, Lucky Chappy closed from 13th to finish third in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), 1 1/2 lengths behind victorious Unbridled Command who came back to finish third in the Feb. 9 Kitten's Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT).
"I thought he ran really well (considering) the winner came back to finish third to Animal Kingdom and Point of Entry," Motion said. "This horse needs distance, like the mile-and-a-quarter of the Hollywood Derby. The mile-and-three-eighths distance of this race I think is really going to help him."
The $100,000 The Very One has attracted a field of nine. Co-highweights with 121 pounds are Long Island Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Starformer, who breaks from post 1 under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, and St. George Farm Racing's La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIIT) victress Closing Range, who leaves post 5 under Elvis Trujillo for trainer Phillip Oliver.
Starformer, a daughter of Dynaformer, makes her first start of the season, having had a brief respite following her wire-to-wire Nov. 10 victory by a neck going 1 1/2 miles on the soft turf at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Closing Range, a 4-year-old After Market filly, will also start for the first time in 2013 after taking the Nov. 30 La Prevoyante by 2 3/4 lengths going the same distance wire-to-wire at Calder.
Also expected to attract support is Schroeder Farm and partners' Irish-bred Kadaya, with Joel Rosario getting the return call for trainer Bob Hess Jr.
Kadaya has a pair of allowance wins over the course, the last at 1 3/8 miles Jan. 21 after the first at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 8.
"She was bought in a sale in France last November (2011) and we had her down here and about ready to run in February," said Hess. "Then I got a call from the barn when I was at the races one afternoon that she was sick and colicking badly. We got her on a van and took her to a hospital (equine) and she was probably an hour from dying if we hadn't gotten there in time.
"It took a long time for her to get well but it has been worth it. I'm very proud of her. She won the two races here impressively, but of course will be running against graded stakes horses for the first time. This is a big test for her, but we think she'll be up to it."
"Both of these fillies are in there because they're craving the distance," Motion said.
Game Fair will seek her third straight victory, coming off a Gulfstream allowance win at 1 7/16 miles Dec. 26 and a Kentucky Downs allowance triumph at 1 5/16 miles.
"I always thought she was a good filly, and she's finally come to herself when I've gotten the chance to run her further," Motion said. "And I hope that's the key with Angegreen."
Angegreen, who was winless in three starts last year after winning three of five starts in Italy, will make her 4-year-old debut.
"My thought is that she is just desperate to run further. For a 3-year-old, it's very hard to find races going long," said Motion, noting that French jockey Antoine Hamelin will ride the daughter of Ekraar.
Gary Chervenell's Seanchai, Richard, Bertram and Elaine Klein's Beijoca, Three Chimneys Racing's Janicellaine—all allowance winners—and Tony's Investments' My Pal Chrisy entered for the main track only complete the field.
$150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. II, Race 10, 5:05 p.m. EST), 4YOs & Up, 1 3/8 miles (turf, rail at 24 feet)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Twilight Eclipse (KY), L. Saez, 123, T Albertrani
2. Newsdad (KY), J. Lezcano, 121, W I Mott
3. Lucky Chappy (IRE), A. Garcia, 117, H G Motion
4. Teaks North (FL), E.S. Prado, 119, M Nevin
5. Belo Acteon (BRZ), J. Rosario, 117, C Clement
6. Nikki's Sandcastle (KY), C.J. Lanerie, 117, D C Kassen
7. Fifty Proof (ON), Luis Contreras, 117, I Black
8. Ioya Bigtime (IL), J. Sanchez, 121, C M Block
9. Amira's Prince (IRE), J.R. Velazquez, 119, W I Mott
10. Shkspeare Shaliyah (FL), J. Castellano, 117, D Shivmangal
$100,000 The Very One Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 4:05 p.m. EST), fillies & mares 4YOs & Up, 1 3/8 miles (turf, rail at 24 feet)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Starformer (KY), E.S. Prado, 121, W I Mott
2. Seanchai (KY), J. Castellano, 117, T A Pletcher
3. Beijoca (KY), C.J. Lanerie, 117, J E Baker
4. Game Fair (KY), A. Garcia, 119, H G Motion
5. Closing Range (KY), E. Trujillo, 121, P J Oliver
6. Angegreen (ITY), A. Hamelin, 117, H G Motion
7. Janicellaine (IRE), J.R. Velazquez, 117, R L Attfield
8. Kadaya (IRE), J. Rosario, 117, R B Hess, Jr.
9. My Pal Chrisy (FL) (MTO), J.L. Castanon, 117, P Lutchman