Host Starts New Year in Appleton Handicap

Melnyk Racing Stable's grade I winner Host, beaten by a half-length when second in last year's $100,000 Appleton Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park, gets another chance in Saturday's renewal of the one-mile turf course test.

Jockey John Velazquez will be aboard the 6-year-old Chilean bred Host for trainer Todd Pletcher in the field of 10 older horses. Host will be making his return to turf after an unfortunate try on the main track in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct in late November, finishing a dull ninth behind Pletcher-trained stablemate Purge.

Prior to the Cigar Mile, Host made three starts on turf last season, beginning with his good effort in the Appleton behind Mr. Light. But he required ankle surgery for bone chips shortly thereafter. The son of Hussonet came back to the races in the fall in top form, winning the $600,00 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct. 8.

That performance earned Host a chance in the $1.5 million NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Belmont Park three weeks later, but he had a troubled trip to finish seventh under jockey Rafael Bejarano, although beaten only three lengths for it all.

Those efforts make Host the class of Saturday's field, but he faces a number of accomplished rivals, including Gainsborough Farm's L'Oiseau d'Argent, with Mark Guidry in the saddle, and Live Oak Plantation's Old Forester, to be ridden by Brice Blanc.

L'Oiseau d'Argent is a veteran 7-year-old gelding trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. The chestnut son of Silver Hawk makes his first start since an unfortunate foray to Woodbine in October, when he finished last of 12 on a 'yielding' course in the Nearctic Handicap (Can-II) at six furlongs.

Old Forester makes his first appearance since losing a nose decision in a tough Churchill Downs allowance test Nov. 2. Trained by Bill Mott, the 5-year-old chestnut horse by Forestry showed a fondness for the new turf course at Gulfstream last season, finishing a good second in an allowance and winning the Canadian Turf Handicap.

If wet weather comes into play on Saturday's program, trainer Shug McGaughey will want to run Phipps Stable's 5-year-old homebred Happy Hunting on the main track if the race is forced off grass. The son of Seeking the Gold is on a four-race win streak at Keeneland and Aqueduct. Edgar Prado would get the call.

$100,000 Appleton Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 10, 5:16 p.m.), 3 & up, 1 mile (turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Drum Major (KY), 115, Rafael Bejarano
2. L'Oiseau d'Argent (KY), 117, Mark Guidry
3. Saint Stephen (KY), 114, Edgar Prado
4. Gulch Approval (KY), 115, Roberto Alvarado, Jr.
5. Host (CHI), 120, John R. Velazquez
6. Happy Hunting (KY), 114, Edgar Prado
7. Ecclesiastic (KY), 114, Javier Castellano
8. Network (KY), 114, Eddie Castro
9. Old Forester (KY), 116, Brice Blanc
10. Old Dodge (BRZ), 115, Cornelio Velasquez
Happy Hunting entered for main track only.