Litfin At Large: Handicapping Big Day at Gulfstream

Dave Litfin handicaps some of the weekend's top stakes races.

As will be the case fairly often in the coming weeks, the focal point for stakes action Dec. 16 will be at Gulfstream Park, where five $100,000 races are carded, all of them carrying grade 3 status.

In the Fifth Avenue division of the $150,000 New York Stallion Series at Aqueduct Racetrack, Pure Silver, who won the Adirondack Stakes (G2) by over nine lengths, will try to recapture her best form against Miss Hot Stones, who won a 14-horse maiden sprint impressively in her first appearance over the Big A's new main track.

The richest race of the weekend, however, isn't until Dec. 17, where the getaway program at Remington Park includes six stakes, topped by the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes. The one-mile race for 2-year-olds offers 17 qualifying points (10-4-2-1) for the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), to be run at Churchill Downs next May. 

The Springboard Mile shapes up as a great betting race with a full field of 12, especially since Greyvitos (12), the morning-line choice at 6-5, is marooned in the far outside post as he comes off an upset victory in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) at nearly 20-1. Among the potential upsetters are Combatant (1), whose trainer, Steve Asmussen, sent out five straight winners at Remington Dec. 12; and Believe in Royalty (10), a son of Tapit  coming off a lengthy maiden triumph for trainer Larry Jones.

I may later regret this, but none of the morning-line favorites at Gulfstream seem like they absolutely have to win, either. Here are some thoughts on them, along with potential alternatives.

Rampart Stakes (GP, race 5, 2:05 ET): Curlin's Approval (1) lost any chance when she stumbled at the start of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), and off-the-board finishes out of town don't have much to do with how she runs at Gulfstream, since she is 7-1-0 from 10 starts over the track and has never finished in the money anywhere else. But she was beaten at odds of 1-2 in this race a year ago, and this will be the first time she has had to deal with the rail post.

The second and third choices have some questions hanging over them as well. Lewis Bay (3) has been away from the races for just over a year since getting nailed at the wire of the Comely Stakes (G3), while Nonna Mela (6), last year's Adirondack winner, is meeting older stakes rivals for the first time.

The plan is to get Alpine Sky (5) somewhere on the board with those three. The 5-year-old mare by Indian Charlie returned from a two-month break with two improved efforts at Gulfstream late in the summer. She was purchased following a mild rally to finish fifth in the Chilukki Stakes (G2) on Nov. 4, and makes her first start for Mark Casse.

Sugar Swirl (GP, race 7, 3:05 ET): Dearest (1) won this race from the rail last year, but that was against only four opponents, and she had been racing regularly throughout the season, winning four of six starts in 2016. She has eight fillies and mares breaking outside of her this time, and has raced only twice at age 4, losing ground through the stretch in both the Inside Information Stakes (G2) and the Princess Rooney Stakes Presented by Hardacre Farm (G2).

Miss Hollywood (2), meanwhile, is also making her initial start for the Casse barn and looks to have trained in tandem with Alpine Sky on several occasions the past few weeks. She likes the Gulfstream surface as well (3-1-1 from five starts), and could work out a nice trip if Dearest is pressed early by True Romance (5) and Girl Knows Best (6).

Miss Hollywood had not been out in eight months when she ran in a high-end optional claiming turf sprint at Belmont Park in early fall, and she turned in a good performance to finish second behind Stormy Victoria, who is the probable second choice in the My Charmer one race later.

My Charmer (GP, race 8, 3:35 ET): On Leave (5) is 7-5 on the line, but with two wins from six outings this year, she hasn't had the kind of year that she had in 2016, when she won four straight capped by the Sands Point Stakes (G2T).

The aforementioned Stormy Victoria (7) figures close with On Leave off her best races, notably a sharp second over the Gulfstream course in the Powder Break Stakes in her seasonal debut back in April. She did not get a good setup when fourth in this race last year behind a loose-on-the-lead Isabella Sings when it was run at Gulfstream Park West. An added plus—she is 2-1-0 when ridden by Joel Rosario, who is back aboard.

Harlan's Holiday (GP, race 9, 4:06 ET): There are some good story lines in this 1 1/16-mile route for older males that features a short stretch run.

Destin (3), the favorite on the line at 5-2, can surpass $1 million in earnings with a win.

Page McKenney (5) has been there and done that, with over $1.7 million in the bank, and 20 wins from 52 trips to the post. This will be his first foray to Gulfstream since a runner-up finish in the 2014 Claiming Crown Jewel.

I'm going to take a shot with second choice Fear the Cowboy (7), whose 3-1-1 record from five starts over this track includes a decisive win in the Skip Away Stakes (G3) in his only local appearance this year. The 5-year-old has won or placed in 15 of 24 dirt starts overall, and picks up Javier Castellano.

Tropical Turf (GP, race 10, 4:37 ET): Trainer Christophe Clement has won four of the last five renewals of the Tropical Turf, and will be favored to add another with Blacktype (7), who won back-to-back starts at Belmont Park in the fall, including the Knickerbocker Stakes (G2T), before coming up a flat fourth in the Artie Schiller Stakes at Aqueduct four weeks ago.

Blacktype may fall into a good spot tracking a lively pace contested by some combination of Western Reserve (6), One Go All Go (8) and Shakhimat (9), but so too might Tower of Texas (1).

Tower of Texas ran down Shakhimat in the Labeeb Stakes last time out, and has posted three workouts for Roger Attfield since arriving at Payson Park, capped by a bullet four-furlong work Dec. 11. He was classy enough to finish a close second to the champion mare Tepin in the 2016 running of the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (G1T), and is ideally inside with a short run to the first turn.