The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike is looking for his first victory since taking his turf debut in the Sept. 1 Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course.
The 1 1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale, scheduled as race 10 with an approximate post time of 5:05 p.m. EST, has drawn 10 other noteworthy contenders including Fifty Proof, Hollinger, Quick Wit, and Nikki's Sandcastle. It would be a solid proof of class if Dominus, who last finished fifth behind 3-year-old Neck 'n Neck in the Nov. 2 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, could get the job done.
"We thought his first race on turf in the Bernard Baruch was very good," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who next sent Stonestreet Farm, George Bolton and Spendthrift Farm's runner to finish sixth behind leading Horse of the Year contender Wise Dan in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland. "He didn't seem to handle the Keeneland turf course too well. We tried him back on the dirt in the Ack Ack at Churchill and he kind of flattened out. So we feel his preferred surface is the turf for the moment. Hopefully, we don't get any rain, because he seems to like a firm turf course."
As a 3-year-old, Dominus won the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) before finishing third in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and fourth in the Foxwoods King's Bishop (gr. I) and going to the sidelines for a year. John Velazquez has the call on the 123-pound highweight, who leaves post 4.
The Ft. Lauderdale could also be the next step up for Nikki's Sandcastle, but many of the runners he'll face off consecutive stakes scores on the Gulfstream lawn have significant back class.
The 6-year-old Castledalegelding trained by David Kassen is second in the weights at 121 pounds along with Signal Hill Farms' Mucho Mas Mucho, runner up in the Nov. 24 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder Casino & Race Course last time out.
Nikki's Sandcastle took the Dec. 1 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes and wheeled back to get the El Prado overnight stakes Dec. 22. Those wins snapped a three-race runner-up streak that included the Fayette (gr. II) at Keeneland. Corey Lanerie, who was aboard for both Gulfstream victories, gets the call back.
"We know that each of the races here will get a little tougher as we go along and we'll be running back in three weeks, but he's been training great and I think he'll to be able to handle it," Kassen said. "He's very versatile, as you saw when he came out of post 13 from way back in the Emerald to win, or he can lay up closer like he did last time in the El Prado. And, if the race were to be forced off turf that would be all right too."
Among other contenders are two 6-year-old Canadian invaders, Robert Harvey's Black Minnaloushe gelding Hollinger and the Whiskey Wisdom gelding Fifty Proof, who races for Kinghaven Farms, John Fielding, and Benjamin Hutzel.
Grade III winner Fifty Proof, trained by Ian Black, returned from more than a year on the sidelines to brilliantly capture the Dec. 2 Sir Barton Stakes wire-to-wire on the all weather track at Woodbine.
Hollinger, a veteran stakes performer, was second by half a length last out in the Nov. 30 Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder for trainer Roger Attfield. He took a class break that time, having finished eighth in the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) one start prior. One of his career-best efforts came at Gulfstream last year, when he finished a game half-length behind Get Stormy in the Gulfstream Turf Handicap (gr. IT).
Third in that race was Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Big Blue Kitten, who went on to run second behind Wise Dan in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland before taking a jaunt to England. That trip did not yield success, as he finished 10th behind top contender So You Think in the June 20 Prince of Wales Stakes (Eng-I). Upon his return from a respite, the 5-year-old Kitten's Joy runner scored by a determined head in tough allowance company going a mile over the Gulfstream lawn.
"I was very proud of him," Brown said of the allowance score. "You never know how they will come back from a trip like that. I'm grateful to Mr. Ramsey for sending him back to me."
Big Blue Kitten began his career at Gulfstream in early 2011, finishing third and breaking his maiden over the course when racing for a $35,000 claiming tag with no takers. He went on to win his next four starts including the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga that summer.
Michael Bruder's Quick Wit is also a Hall of Fame Stakes winner; he took a 2012 off-the-turf edition Aug. 10 but has fared poorly in three starts since then, running eighth in the Sept. 2 Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT), ninth in the Oct. 13 Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT), and ninth in the Nov. 17 Commonwealth Turf (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs.