For four seasons, Mr. Jordan has been the kind of on-track performer trainers can't help but get endeared to.
He has knocked heads with a Triple Crown winner. He has won at least one stakes every season of racing. The gelded son of Kantharos may have a ceiling on what he can achieve, but he has rarely failed to give trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. reason to be proud of the effort put forth.
Plesa is counting on Mr. Jordan's class to pull him through a scenario that is on the outer limits of his wheelhouse when he starts the 6-year-old in the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes going 1 1/8-miles at Gulfstream Park Jan. 20.
As the lone graded stakes winner in the field of six entered for the Sunshine Millions Classic, Mr. Jordan's best day should be plenty enough to earn the ivory-colored gelding the victory in his seasonal bow. If there is a concern for Plesa, it's that the nine furlongs is a hair long for his charge's tactical early speed.
The distance may not be ideal, but Plesa nonetheless can't fault anything else about Mr. Jordan's preparations heading into his first run of 2018. After a shaky start to his season a year ago in which he finished off-the-board in his first three outings, Mr. Jordan pulled himself together by year's end, winning the Millions Classic Preview Stakes at Gulfstream Park West by 11 1/2 lengths and finishing second in the Dec. 16 Harlan's Holiday Stakes (G3).
"The positive (for Saturday) is it's restricted to Florida-breds so that's a plus. The negative is it's a mile and an eighth," said Plesa, who conditions Mr. Jordan for his wife Laurie Plesa, David Melin, and Leon Ellman. "In his last race, I think the pace compromised him some. He was forced to run almost the whole distance, he didn't really have a breather, and that kind of told the story as far as the end of the race is concerned.
"This race I think will come up differently pace-wise—hopefully it will work in our favor. He's coming into the race 110% and we're anxious to run him."
A key intangible when it comes to getting the best version of Mr. Jordan to show up is having a rider in the irons who actually gets along with the gelding. Edgard Zayas proved he clicked with the veteran runner when he piloted him in his last two starts and the fact he has the call again Saturday is a source of comfort for Plesa.
"He's kind of a difficult horse to ride but Edgard has gotten along with him great," Plesa said. "Edgard put some time and effort into him before and he rode him the first time over at (Gulfstream Park West) so ... it removes a concern of mine with him running. That's not going to be a problem. It's going to be the pace and the distance that are key and hopefully his class will get him through all that."
Richard the Great looms a threat after finishing third in the Harlan's Holiday, a neck behind Mr. Jordan. The Arindel homebred gelding was also behind Mr. Jordan while running second in his first start around two turns in the Millions Classic Preview and will be seeking his first victory since winning the Trinniberg Handicap at Gulfstream in August.
"That was the second time he went two turns. He ran good. He ran good the first time, but I thought he ran better the second time. I think he can run better this time," trainer Stanley Gold said. "We have to contend with Mr. Jordan and the others. He deserves a shot in there."
The Sunshine Millions Classic is the headliner of four stakes for Florida-bred horses on Saturday's card.
Starship Jubilee, third as the favorite for Canadian-based trainer and co-owner Kevin Attard in the Claiming Crown Tiara last out, returns to her favorite track in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf. Also owned by Soli Mehta, Starship Jubilee earned six of her eight career wins over the turf course at Gulfstream, where she was claimed for $16,000 out of a runner-up finish last February.
William Clifton's multiple stakes winner Our Way will end a 5 1/2-month stretch between races when he returns as the defending champion in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf. Our Way, trained by Jim Bond, went winless in three starts following his mild upset in last year's Turf, where he came with a steady drive down the stretch to win by a neck over subsequent multiple graded-stakes winner Enterprising.
The six-furlong, $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint will feature graded stakes winner X Y Jet heading up a field of seven entered. The Jorge Navarro-trained gelded son of Kantharos returned from a layoff of more than a year to win the Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) by half a length at Gulfstream Park Dec. 23.