The Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park drew a full field of 12 turf runners, many with stakes credentials, but none more so than 2016 Fort Lauderdale winner Heart to Heart. With 11 career wins, his bankroll stands less than $2,000 short of a million, and from the rail we can be sure this hard-trying horse will be out on the lead where he likes to be from the start.
Lukes Alley finished second in last year's race before winning the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and is one of more than a few with a shot at keeping Heart to Heart from repeating. Another may be Divisidero, off since June but with a win in the Grade 1 Turf Classic prior to the race before the layoff. Macagone posted the upset win in the Artie Schiller Stakes when last seen, while Rose Brier was the original winner of the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap in his most recent start before being disqualified for drifting into another runner. Jay Gatsby just missed by a neck in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap last summer and is another that adds to the depth of talent in the field.
Macagone posted the 35-to-1 upset when last seen in the Artie Schiller Stakes this past November in New York. That was his first start on turf since being moved to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and it may not have been a fluke. The reason the stakes win may not have been a fluke is Macagone had earned a career-best and stakes-quality 114 Equibase Speed Figure winning on the turf in August at Saratoga before a 10th-place effort in the Commonwealth Turf Cup and an irrelevant effort on a race moved from turf to dirt (and run on a sloppy track). Likely to be in a great spot just behind early pacesetters Heart to Heart and Diamond Bachelor in the early stages, Macagone could get up in time to win his second stakes race in a row.
In his most recent race, Jay Gatsby lost all chance when he stumbled at the start. Just before that, in the Knickerbocker Stakes, Jay Gatsby missed by a half-length to Heart to Heart when Heart to Heart was allowed to coast around the track on incredibly slow fractions, still earning a career-best 113 E Figure in the process. Prior to that, Jay Gatsby missed by a nose in the similar Bernard Baruch Handicap. With a much fairer pace to run into in this year's Fort Lauderdale, Jay Gatsby could be up in time to win.
Night Prowler was away from the races for just over a year when returning last August, winning his next start with a career-best 114 figure. Closing from eighth to third in the Artie Schiller behind Macagone, Night Prowler gets a change in jockey back to Javier Castellano, who was up for his last win. Having won multiple graded stakes as a 3-year-old before the time off, Night Prowler fits with these horses and is another contender to be respected in the Fort Lauderdale.
finished second, beaten a half-length, in the 2016 Fort Lauderdale behind Heart to Heart
with a 112 figure. He then won the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Rested nine months, Lukes Alley
was moved to all-weather and didn't do much running when fifth. Now back on the turf and proven over the course and the level, he is reunited with Paco Lopez, who rode him to both big races last winter. Additionally, Lukes Alley
brings a very competitive record of 12 first- or second-place finishes in 15 races into this race which makes him deserving of a lot of respect.
Although Heart to Heart is a horse that needs the lead to win and may have to deal with another with the same running style in Diamond Bachelor, I just can't ignore his record of 10 for 18 on grass and the fact he's never been defeated in three races on the Gulfstream Park turf, including a win in last year's Fort Lauderdale. He ran the best race of his career when second last spring to multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Miss Temple City in the Maker's 46 Mile with a 121 figure and enters this year's race off a win (117 figure) just like he did last year, so I can't totally discount his chances of repeating.
Although the rest of the field appears to have much less probability to win than the contenders above, many have potential to be in-the-money and deserve mention, starting with Flatlined, who finished just a neck behind Heart to Heart in the El Prado Stakes last month with a career-best 117 figure. Almanaar, winner of the Group 3 Prix Daphnis Stakes in France, makes only his third start after being away from the races for 13 months and could be in the hunt. Rose Brier has never been worse than second in seven races on the Gulfstream Park turf and enters the race off a winning effort in the Tropical Park Handicap (104 figure), but was disqualified to second. Diamond Bachelor finished second in the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes in his most recent race and before that earned a career-best 115 figure winning the non-graded Mr. Steele Stakes on this course. Divisidero comes back from seven months off and I think he may need a race before he runs his best but is expected to be a tough campaigner on the turf handicap circuit this year based on his Turf Classic win last May with a 113 figure.
Fire Away (best figure 106) and Copingaway (112 figure) round out the field.
Also consider Lukes Alley and Heart to Heart as strong contenders.