Looking for Longshots in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes

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 haystack.

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 win decisively.

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.

Mr. 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 Holiday Stakes?


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.

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