Soaring Empire is on target to defend his 2011 victory in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14, but will face several formidable rivals expected to include Jackson Bend in the one-mile test.
The Hal’s Hope will share the spotlight that afternoon with the $100,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIIT) at 1 1/16 miles on turf with the nominees and possible starters including Priscilla Vaccarezza’s defending champion Little Mike, Preston Stable’s Flat Out, and Resolute Group Stable’s Teaks North.
A 5-year-old by Empire Maker, Ol Memorial Stable & C.E. Glasscock’sSoaring Empire went on to chase Tackleberry home second in both the Gulfstream Sprint Championship (gr. II) and Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) later in the meet for trainer Cam Gambolati while dealing with gate problems on several occasions. He settled down and matured as the season went on with his gate issues behind him and found a new dimension going two turns in his last two starts at Monmouth Park in July, finishing second in the Salvatore Mile (gr. III) and winning the Majestic Light Stakes. A good effort in the Hal’s Hope will earn him a chance in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) on Feb. 11.
Robert La Penta and Jacks or Better Farm’s Jackson Bend finished a game third behind Amazombie last time out in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 for trainer Nick Zito. The 5-yeart-old son of Hear No Evil won the Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga last summer.
Little Mike pulled off a rare feat during the Gulfstream meet last year by winning three graded stakes on turf at the session for trainer Dale Romans, beginning with the Fort Lauderdale and followed by scores in the Canadian Turf (gr. IIIT) and Appleton Stakes (gr. IIIT), the last on April 3. The 5-year-old Spanish Steps gelding didn’t run again until Dec. 22, prevailing in a hard-fought allowance victory over the course.
Flat Out never has been tried on turf, but has worked over the Gulfstream course and trainer Scooter Dickey has indicated the Fort Lauderdale is one option for his 2012 debut. The son of Flatter emerged as a handicap division leader last year with runner-up efforts in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, and a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
A 5-year-old son of Northern Afleet, Teaks North won the Monmouth Stakes (gr. IIIT) and United Nations (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park last year.