Morning Line, who last came into his own during the second half of his 3-year-old campaign and is expected to be one of the top older horses in 2011, makes his season debut in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 8 at Gulfstream Park.
Also in the one-mile Hal’s Hope is Rule, who returns to action after being sidelined since last March. A field of seven was drawn for the dirt race on opening weekend of the Gulfstream winter meet. Post time is set for 4:52 p.m. EDT.
The $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes for 3-year-olds going six furlongs is also on the docket. A field of nine, all of them carrying 116 pounds, was drawn.
Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Morning Line made a name for himself at Saratoga last summer when he romped by 11 lengths in allowance company. In his next start he won the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) in his stakes debut, then ended his sophomore season with a hard-luck second in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs when he was caught at the wire by longshot Dakota Phone.
Nick Zito trains Morning Line, a son of Tiznow who has produced a 3-3-0 record from seven starts and earnings of $854,800. The dark bay/brown colt was bred by Dell Ridge Farm and is out of the A.P. Indy mare Indian Snow. John Velazquez will have the mount.
WinStar Farm’s homebred Rule won four consecutive starts between November 2009 and February 2010, including the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) to make him a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) threat. But the son of Roman Ruler was taken out of consideration for the classic in late April by trainer Todd Pletcher and was given time off at the farm.
Rule was entered in an allowance race late in 2010 but it did not fill so Pletcher brought him down to Florida to begin his 4-year-old season. He has had a series of strong breezes at Palm Meadows in the weeks leading up to the Hal’s Hope. With regular rider Velazquez on Morning Line, Pletcher has assigned Javier Castellano to ride.
“We just gave him some time off," Pletcher said. "We didn’t feel like he was thriving coming into the Derby and we were running out of time for the summer races. There was no major reason for it other than he wasn’t where we wanted to be.
“He’s been training very well. It’s his first start since the Florida Derby, so it’s not ideal conditions to come back against a horse with the quality of Morning Line. But, by the same token, we’re ready to go and we need to get the season started.”
Pletcher won the 2010 Hal’s Hope with Quality Road.
Riding a four-race win streak into the race is 4-year-old gelding Tackleberry. The Florida-bred son of Montbrook, owned and trained by Luis Olivares, went wire-to-wire in all of those victories including the Dec. 11 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) at Calder when he tried a route a ground for the first time. Though making his ninth start, this will be Tackleberry’s first effort outside of Calder. Javier Santiago will have the mount.
Losing by a nose at odds of 26-1 in the Fred Hooper was Dream Maestro. The Concerto gelding is back for his 6-year-old season and will seek his first win since April 2009.
Also coming off a solid effort is Jacks or Better Farm’s Hear Ye Hear Ye, a five-length optional claiming winner Dec. 10 at Calder going one mile. Jeffrey Sanchez will be in the irons for Stanley Gold.
In the Spectacular Bid, much of the focus could be on the speedy Gangsterontherun, a nine-length maiden winner at Parx Racing back in September. The gelded son of City Zip led all the way while finishing five furlongs in a fast :57.15 under Alex Solis. Trained and co-owned by Wesley Ward, Gangsterontherun had had a series of strong works at Gulfstream in preparation for his stakes debut. Solis keeps the mount.
Also in the mix is Pennsylvania-bred Winchill, an allowance winner for Dale Romans at Churchill Downs in November; Cane Garden Bay, who was fifth during his stakes debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) last out after breaking his maiden at Keeneland; and Leave of Absence, an impressive maiden winner at Aqueduct in November for Rick Violette Jr.
Romans, who trains Winchill for Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, is hoping for big things from his charge. He has won twice in four starts in his short career.
“I expect him to be pretty close to the pace in there,” Romans said. “He really has only run one bad race in his career. In his race on the synthetic (Presque Isle), there was a spill in front of him and he had to check. We’ll use the Spectacular Bid as a stepping-stone to some of the bigger races later in the meet."
$100,000 Spectacular Bid (Race 7, 3:52 p.m.), 3YO, Six Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Winchill (PA), J R Velazquez, 116, D L Romans
2. Wildcat Formation (KY), J L Alvarez, 116, B Parboo
3. Grande Shores (FL), J Sanchez, 116, S I Gold
4. War for Gus (KY), K J Desormeaux, 116, S L DiMauro
5. Leave of Absence (FL), R Maragh, 116, R A Violette, Jr.
6. Gangsterontherun (KY), A O Solis, 116, W A Ward
7. Dual Exhauzt (FL), E Trujillo, 116, W P White
8. Cane Garden Bay (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, G R Arnold, II
9. Determinato (FL), E Coa, 116, L Pilotti
$100,000 Hal's Hope (gr. III, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Tackleberry (FL), J Santiago, 121, L Olivares
2. Rule (KY), J Castellano, 121, T A Pletcher
3. Morning Line (KY), J R Velazquez, 121, N P Zito
4. Dream Maestro (FL), C Leyva, 117, W A Kaplan
5. Soaring Empire (KY), J Lezcano, 117, C M Gambolati
6. Hear Ye Hear Ye (FL), J Sanchez, 117, S I Gold
7. Caixa Eletronica (KY), L Saez, 117, D Chaparro