The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained the 3-year-old colt led throughout the 1 1/8-mile allowance race, withstanding a prolonged challenge by Cool Blue Red Hot before drawing away under a confident Alan Garcia. Cool Blue Red Hot weakened late to finish a distant second under Rajiv Maragh after challenging the 6-5 favorite from the far turn into the stretch. Beamer finished third, another 1 3/4 lengths back.
“I was very impressed with the way he ran today after he was pressed all the way by that nice horse (Cool Blue Red Hot),” McLaughlin said. “He ran hard all the way and then he galloped out really strong.”
Soldat ($4.40) ran 1 1/8 miles over the sloppy main track in 1:49 1/5 after setting fractions of :24 1/5, :48 1/5, 1:12, and 1:36 3/5.
The victory was Soldat’s first on a dirt track. After finishing second in his first two starts over “off” tracks at Belmont Park and Saratoga, the son of War Front broke his maiden in the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga before finishing a troubled second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
“We decided some time ago that, despite how well he did on turf last year, we didn’t want to wait until October (this year) to find out if he was as good on dirt. They are only 3-year-olds once,” said McLaughlin with an obvious eye toward the Triple Crown. “Also, he’s by War Front, by Danzig, who never turfed and was a good horse on dirt.”
McLaughlin said Soldat would likely run next on Feb. 26 in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II).
“There still may be some question of how he handles a fast track, although I’m not really that concerned the way he has trained,” McLaughlin said. “And now we know the distance isn’t a problem.”
Dialed In , whose return from an impressive debut victory last fall at Churchill was highly anticipated in Friday’s feature, was scratched by trainer Nick Zito earlier in the afternoon due to the sloppy track condition.
“I spoke to the stewards and told them that I didn’t feel comfortable running him,” Zito said. “I don’t know if he can handle a sloppy track. I don’t want to waste a race as good as he’s been doing.”
Zito said that Dialed In would likely start in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream on Jan. 30.
“It’s not what I wanted to do, but it looks like that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “I’ll try to get another race, but if not, we’ll go to the Holy Bull.”