Hopes were high when Windsor Castle was sent to Florida in 2001. Back then, the son of Lord Carson was on the short list of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) candidates following his win in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) in his final juvenile start. But the now 5-year-old, having just a single victory--an allowance one, at that--in his 14 tries since the Remsen, had engendered much lower expectations as he prepared to winter at Gulfstream Park this year. "We go to bed at night and just pray that he'll be OK in the morning," said trainer Frank Alexander with a laugh after Windsor Castle ended two years of frustration with a last-to-first rally to win the Hal's Hope Handicap (gr. III) by 1 1/2 lengths on Jan. 11. "He's really been a hard luck horse." The hard luck started when Windsor Castle, following the completion of a purchase by Dogwood Stables from Alexander, developed a severe lung infection that caused him to miss the first half of the 2001 season. Following three mid-year starts, he was sidelined again with a back injury sustained in a shedrow accident at Saratoga. Last year, although healthy, Windsor Castle had difficulty finding the winner's circle, with races such as his year-ending sixth-place finish in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) typical. "He didn't really run a bad race--beaten just 3 1/2 lengths for second," said Alexander. But grimacing as he spoke the name of the runaway winner, the trainer added, "The only problem he had that day was Congaree." Even as Windsor Castle prepared for the Hal's Hope--the race was renamed from the Creme Fraiche to honor the dual grade I winner at Gulfstream who died last summer--he was battling a quarter crack that had Alexander considering skipping the 1 1/16-mile contest. But citing his light frame, Alexander opted to take a shot, and when the less than star-studded field came up heavy on front-runners, both trainer and jockey were pleased. "The race was run exactly the way I thought it would be," said Eibar Coa, noting the early pace battle between Hail the Chief, Najran, and Speed Hunter. Also in close attendance was favorite Hero's Tribute, who was caught in-tight throughout. The pace, :23.31, :46.70, and 1:10.53, softened up the leaders when it came time for Coa to ask Windsor Castle for run. He began picking up horses heading into the turn, then when shifted to the far outside for the stretch run by Coa, Windsor Castle gobbled up the remainder of the field. He finally collared Najran near the sixteenth pole and drew off. Behind him, Saint Verre closed to be a neck better than Najran for second. The final time was 1:42.33. "This proves he's a good horse," said Alexander. While the Hal's Hope serves as the main local prep for the Feb. 22 Donn Handicap (gr. I), Alexander was not yet ready to commit to the race. Noting the connections of Congaree were considering that spot, he concluded, "It would be awfully nice if the Donn came up with this same field, but I don't expect it will." b
Eugene and Laura Melnyk's Harmony Lodge captured her first graded stakes score in the Jan. 12 First Lady Handicap (gr. III) at six furlongs. After a slow start, the 5-year-old daughter of Hennessy rallied around the turn and edged away for a 1 3/4-length win over Fly Me Crazy...Request for Parole, fifth in last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I), made his 4-year-old debut a winning one in an allowance race on the turf on Jan. 8. Sam and Jeri Knighton's colt was out for more than six months following the Derby with a leg injury, and new trainer Stan Hough indicated he would likely be returned to the dirt for his next start...Glen Hill Farm's homebred Consistency bears watching following a nine-length debut score on Jan. 8. Tom Proctor trains the 4-year-old son of Unbridled...Two years ago, Mark Shuman had a single horse in training at Gulfstream. This year, teamed with owner Mike Gill, the trainer has a seemingly endless supply--with fresh ammunition at the ready. Through the meet's first eight days, Team Gill/Shuman had claimed 21 horses, with 10 others lost through shakes. Shuman has also sent out 11 winners from 34 starters.