The 32nd running of the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap brings together a field of eight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, including the top three finishers from the Fort Lauderdale Stakes run four weeks ago over the course as well as the winner of this race in 2015.
In the Fort Lauderdale, Flatlined outfinished Almanaar by a neck for the top prize. Divisidero, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last May, was another three-quarters of a length behind in third but was making his first start following seven months away from the races. Lukes Alley, the 2015 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap winner, was third and in contention in the Fort Lauderdale but lacked room, had to steady and alter course, then had no finishing kick and ended up seventh.
The other four entrants might also be contenders, including Elrigh and War Correspondent, who finished first and third, respectively, and separated by just a pair of necks, in a race on the turf last month at Tampa Bay Downs. Another horse that prepped well recently is All Included, who closed fast for second over the course last month following nine months off. Last but not least is Beach Patrol, who won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes last summer and who was second of 12 when last seen in December in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.
Although horses running second off long layoffs such as Divisidero and All Included can improve and run well enough to win, and although Elrigh may be able to step up off an allowance level win in his second start back from 14 months off, I believe there are many reasons the results of the Fort Lauderdale Stakes last month can be duplicated in this year's Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
Flatlined rallied from 11th of 12 in the Fort Lauderdale. It was his second race with jockey Joe Bravo in the saddle, the other when beaten a neck after closing fast for second in the El Prado Stakes, also over the Gulfstream Park Turf. The former effort earned the horse a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure and although the latter effort yielded a 109 figure that is still the best last-race figure in the field save for the 114 Beach Patrol earned in his most recent effort (in the Hollywood Derby). Having gone to post at 15-to-1 in the Fort Lauderdale, the opening odds of 8-to-1 in this race offer enough value that Flatlined is worth strong consideration to win his second graded stakes in a row.
In the Fort Lauderdale, Almanaar was making only his third start since importing to the U.S. and his first in a stakes, as well as his first start following three months off. With Joel Rosario aboard for the first time, Almanaar put in a big late surge in the last eighth of a mile to go from fifth to just a neck shy of victory, earning the same 109 speed figure as the winner. Likely to run even better in his second start on the course and second off the layoff, and opening at 6-to-1 odds, I could easily justify betting Almanaar to win as well in this wide open race, sacrificing a bit of profit by betting two horses to win in order to increase the chances of making a profit.
Divisidero is a multiple graded stakes winner on turf in the U.S. and the only horse in the field that can make that claim. He won the American Turf Stakes in May 2015, then won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in the same month last year, earning a then-career-best 113 figure. Returning from seven months on the sidelines in the Fort Lauderdale, Divisidero was a bit washy (sweaty, indicating nervousness) in the warm up for the race, but proceeded to run well as he rallied from 11th to finish third, beaten less than a length at the finish. With improving to do off that 107 figure and with a perfect two-for-two career record at this mile and one-eighth turf trip, Divisidero must be respected as a strong contender to win, although it must be noted with opening odds of 2-to-1 he doesn't offer the value for win bets compared to Flatlined or Almanaar.
For any exacta or trifecta tickets played, we might be remiss leaving Beach Patrol off our tickets. With a record of three wins and four second-place finishes in 10 career turf races and a 114 figure earned when second in his most recent race, the Hollywood Derby, he has shown a competitive spirit and the ability to back that up. On the other hand, noting Beach Patrol has lost ground, and the lead, in the final yards in his last two races, I believe he may lack the winning spirit and closing ability of the three main win contenders listed above.
The rest of the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is All Included (110), Elrigh (107), Lukes Alley (112) and War Correspondent (109).