It’s stakes race lite today with just 10 stakes races throughout the US. Pride of place goes to Gulfstream with 3 Graded races, of which two are on the turf.
Gulfstream – sunny, temperatures in the high 70s, going fast on the dirt track and firm on turf
The big race of the day is the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap over a mile (one turn) on the main track. The $500k prize money has attracted a fascinating field and the race could be described as Valid against Todd Pletcher, as the great trainer fields four runners against Marcus Vitali’s ultra-consistent stable star. However, one Todd Pletcher horse that is notable by his absence is Mshawish as he is being routed to the Dubai World Cup. Valid will be massively pleased with that as he has put in some fantastic performances recently only to find one better in the form of the mighty Mshawish.
This is indeed an intriguing race as, in my humble opinion, it’s not clear how the race will pan out. Many of the experts think that Valid will go for it from the bell but trainer Vitali will be happy for the horse to take a lead if there is a decent pace, which could be provided by the consistent Grand Shores. Certainly though, if things are at all cagey early on, jockey Nik Juarez will not hang around!
The Morning Line favorite is Itsaknockout at 2/1, who shares top weight of 118 pounds with Valid. Valid already has a decision over Itsaknockout in the Donn Handicap although the latter didn’t get the best of trips. It looks a close call between the two but I’m siding with Valid, who is working so well and is so consistent with Beyers of over 100 in his last 3 runs.
Gulfstream has a couple of graded turf races on the undercard and the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida looks a particularly intriguing contest over the route trip of a mile and three eighths. The race features two moneyspinning horses in Kaigun and Twilight Eclipse, who have won over $3m in prize money between them but it would be wrong to assume that it is a two horse race as six of the seven contenders have recorded Beyer figures in excess of 100 in their recent resumes.
The seven year old Twilight Eclipse has competed in the last three renewals of this race, finishing fourth, first and second respectively. However, he is not a consistent winner and often seems to get into trouble while Kaigun hasn’t won in his last eight starts and there must be concerns about his stamina over this three turn 11 furlong trip. Da Big Hoss looks the answer to me. He has plenty of stamina and beat Kaigun by 4 ¾ lengths when they met in the John b Connally.
Away from Gulfstream, Aqueduct stages the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes worth a cool $400k over a mile and a sixteenth. The race is technically a Kentucky Derby Trial with 50 points to the winner. However, it must be said that the eight protagonists in this year’s renewal are, at best, on the fringe of the Derby scene with only Sunny Ridge having a stakes win to his name and he is unlikely to contest the big race.
Of the contenders, Shagaf is 2 from 2 and is on the improve but this is a big step up in class. Conquest Big E is interesting and may represent some value in the race. His 4th, albeit at a respectable 9 length distance, to Mohaymen in the Holy Bull is decent form in the context of this race and a good performance will only go to uphold the standing of the Kentucky Derby favorite.