By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
In my opinion, one of the most fascinating races coming
up this weekend-at least from a handicapping perspective-is the $100,000 Harlan's Holiday Stakes (gr. III)
at Gulfstream Park. The race has drawn nine horses, five of them graded stakes
winners, but finding the winner could be roughly akin to finding a needle in a
The reason is that the horses in the Harlan's Holiday
field are generally an inconsistent group. They've shown flashes of brilliance,
but are just as apt to disappoint at short prices as they are to pull away and
The morning line favorite at 5-2 is Destin. Trained by Gulfstream's perennial leading trainer Todd
Pletcher, Destin first rose to prominence when he won a couple of graded stakes
races on the 2016 Triple Crown trail and finished second by a nose in the
Belmont Stakes (gr. I). However, his 2017 campaign has lacked the same level of
success; although he did score hard-fought victories in the 14-furlong Marathon
Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar and a nine-furlong allowance race at Saratoga, his
efforts against tougher company results in a distant fifth-place finish in the
Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and a similar sixth-place finish in the Clark
Handicap (gr. I).
Destin might find the competition a little easier in the
Harlan's Holiday and should work out an ideal trip sitting behind the leaders,
but though he warrants respect I don't think he's unbeatable by any means, and
5-2 seems like a pretty short price.
Jordan is another obvious contender after winning the Millions
Classic Preview Stakes at Gulfstream Park West by a stunning 11 lengths,
earning a 100 Beyer speed figure. But Mr. Jordan's career has been filled with
moments of brilliance against easy competition interspersed with
disappointments against tougher foes; just two starts back, he finished last by
17 lengths in the Pennsylvania Derby Champion Stakes at Parx, and last year he
finished a distant seventh in the Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream
Park one start after winning the Millions Classic Preview Stakes with ease. He
can win if he runs his best race, but with the speedy (and similarly
inconsistent) Conquest Big E likely
to ensure an honest pace, I wouldn't want to trust Mr. Jordan at a short price.
Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on Fear the Cowboy and Flatlined. Fear the Cowboy has been
busy over the last year, running in ten races at ten different tracks in eight
different states. Despite this remarkable schedule, Fear the Cowboy has
maintained his form all year long and most recently finished a solid third in
the 8.5-furlong Swatara Stakes at Penn National, a race in which the final
five-sixteenths of a mile went in a quick :30.36 seconds, making it difficult
for Fear the Cowboy to rally from off the pace.
Now Fear the Cowboy is returning to Gulfstream Park,
where he has never finished out of the trifecta and has won two stakes races,
including the nine-furlong Skip Away Stakes (gr. III) back in March. Although
his best races aren't quite as flashy as those of Destin and Mr. Jordan, Fear
the Cowboy is much more consistent and wouldn't need to take much of a step
forward to contend for victory in the Harlan's Holiday. With the four-time Eclipse
Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle, I'm expecting Fear the
Cowboy to produce a big late run.
As for Flatlined,
he's spent the majority of his career racing on turf and defeated the Grade 1
winners Almanaar and Divisidero in the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (gr. II) last
February. However, Flatlined is bred to enjoy dirt and did win his last start
on that surface, scoring an easy 6 ¼-length victory in a one-mile allowance
race at Ellis Park. Granted, he got an easy trip setting fractions of :47.26
and 1:11.12 while facing just three rivals, but he also finished strongly
through a final quarter-mile in :24.10.
Furthermore, Flatlined has posted many sharp workouts on
dirt throughout his career, including a half-mile in :46 flat on November 29th
and five furlongs in :59 flat on December 9th, both of those works
coming at Gulfstream Park. Although he likes to rally from far back when racing
on turf, it's possible that he could show more speed while transitioning back
to dirt, and he might offer the best value in a race where it's difficult to
feel confident in any given horse.
Assuming the morning line odds hold up, I'll take Flatlined as my top pick at 6-1 in
hopes that the return to dirt will yield an upset victory. I also respect the
chances of Fear the Cowboy, but
would be happier with something higher than his 7-2 morning line price. In any
case, I would be inclined to use both horses in multi-race wagers while trying
to beat the favorites.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Harlan's
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.