Grade I winner Quality Road, who when last seen was being scratched from the Nov. 7 Breeders Cup Classic (gr. I) after a traumatic starting gate ordeal, will finally return to action in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) on opening day at Gulfstream Park.
Making his first start as a 4-year-old, Quality Road will face eight rivals in the one-mile Hal’s Hope, including stablemate Harlem Rocker. Post time is set for 4:43 p.m. EDT for the Jan. 3 feature, which kicks off the 80-day Gulfstream meet in South Florida.
A Virginia homebred of Edward Evans, Quality Road had a successful but tumultuous 2009 campaign. He first established himself as a premier 3-year-old when winning the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, then suffered a pair of quarter cracks that forced the probable favorite to miss the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in May.
The son of Elusive Quality was transferred to the barn of Todd Pletcher in the summer and made a record-setting return to the racetrack on Aug. 3 at Saratoga when winning the Amsterdam (gr. II). He placed in both the Travers (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) before shipping out West for the Breeders’ Cup.
Just prior to the start of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, Quality Road had a fit while being loaded into the starting gate. He fortunately suffered only minor cuts while nearly breaking through the gate and had to be scratched. He later refused to be loaded onto the plane back to New York and had to be vanned cross country. Pletcher gave the bay colt extensive gate schooling sessions over the next few weeks and considered running him in the Nov. 28 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct before deciding to skip that race and head down to Florida.
Quality Road, the 122-pound high weight, tuned up for the Hal’s Hope with a series of works at Palm Meadows. In his last work on Dec. 28 he breezed four furlongs in :49.45. An earner of $972,830 from seven starts, he will be ridden by John Velazquez and they will break from post 2.
Stronach Stables’ Harlem Rocker will make his second start after a nearly one-year layoff for Pletcher. The 5-year-old son of Macho Uno missed by a head in a Nov. 14 allowance contest at Churchill Downs in his return to the races--his lone start as a 4-year-old. He has also been working steadily at Palm Meadows since then.
As a sophomore, Harlem Rocker won four of eight starts including the Withers (gr. III) at Aqueduct. He also crossed the wire first in the Cigar Mile but was disqualified and placed second after stewards determined that he interfered with Tale of Ekati in the stretch.
To be ridden by Eibar Coa, Canadian-bred Harlem Rocker has won each of his two career starts at Gulfstream.
After the formidable Pletcher-trained duo, the leading contenders would appear to be Judson Streicher’s Le Grand Cru and Edmund Gann’s You and I Forever, both making their 5-year-old debuts.
Le Grand Cru closed out his 2009 season with victories in the off-the-turf Kelso Handicap (gr. III) going a mile over a muddy track at Belmont, and the seven-furlong Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) over a fast track at Aqueduct, both in October. The son of Dynaformer made the first four starts of his career at Gulfstream, winning his debut in March of 2008 and finishing second in three allowance races early in 2009. Jose Lezcano will ride for Allen Jerkens.
You and I Forever had an up and down campaign in 2009 and will try to bounce back from a dull effort finishing 11th in the Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill on Nov. 27. The son of A.P. Indy was impressive when winning a seven-furlong allowance at Calder in early July and ran well to finish second in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. III) at Monmouth Park in August.
$100,000 Hal's Hope (gr. III, Race 8, 4:43 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. You and I Forever (KY), E Castro, 116, M D Wolfson
2. Quality Road (VA), J R Velazquez, 122, T A Pletcher
3. Helsinki (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, R E Dutrow, Jr.
4. Colonial Causeway (VA), C H Velasquez, 116, M J Azpurua
5. Le Grand Cru (KY), J Lezcano, 120, H A Jerkens
6. Suyeta (KY), T Farina, 116, M P Leahy
7. Harlem Rocker (ON), E Coa, 116, T A Pletcher
8. Spin Master (KY), A Garcia, 116, S Klesaris
9. Congressional Page (KY), C H Marquez Jr., 116, M J Trombetta