By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
2022 is set to end with a
bang on the horse racing front. An action-packed Saturday features a bevy of quality
races across the country, including half a dozen stakes (five of them graded)
at Gulfstream Park.
The richest prizes at
Gulfstream are the $200,000 Ft. Lauderdale S. (G2) and the $150,000 Harlan's
Holiday S. (G3), local steppingstones toward the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1)
and Pegasus World Cup (G1).
We'll focus on these two
races in our final Unlocking Winners blog post of the year:
Ft. Lauderdale S. (G2)
I suppose there's a school
of thought that says #12 Colonel Liam is
vulnerable to an upset in this 1 1/8-mile turf test. The morning line favorite
hasn't run since finishing ninth in the Dubai Turf (G1) back in March, and he
risks a wide trip while breaking from post 12.
But I'm confident Colonel
Liam will deliver a winning run. He's 3-for-3 at Gulfstream Park, winning the
2020 Tropical Park Derby before rattling off Pegasus World Cup Turf victories
in 2021 and 2022. Furthermore, Colonel Liam has made a habit of winning races
off lengthy layoffs; the Tropical Park Derby marked his first start in 4 1/2
months, and he won the 2022 Pegasus World Cup Turf off an eight-month break.
Wide trips haven't bothered
Colonel Liam either. He raced wide in the Tropical Park Derby and dominated by
3 1/4 lengths. He similarly raced outside of rivals in the 2022 Pegasus World
Cup Turf before kicking on to win by one length.
Colonel Liam has won five
stakes and three Grade 1 prizes throughout his layoff-dotted career, so he's
clearly the most accomplished horse in the Ft. Lauderdale field. He's 3-for-4
racing 1 1/8 miles (with his lone defeat coming in the Dubai Turf overseas),
and he's put together a sharp work tab in preparation for his return. I
anticipate Colonel Liam will snatch victory for hot connections Irad Ortiz and
Todd Pletcher, who are respectively winning at 25% and 22% rates at Gulfstream
Harlan's Holiday S. (G3)
Eight talented horses have
assembled for the final graded stakes of the year at Gulfstream Park. Three are
veterans of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and another started in the Preakness S.
(G1) and Belmont S. (G1), so this field is pretty deep for a Grade 3.
At first glance, it's
tempting to support #1 O'Connor. A
Group 1 winner in his native Chile, O'Connor thrived when making his U.S. debut
in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream in October. After
settling half a dozen lengths behind a fast pace, O'Connor rallied strongly to
defeat next-out Marion County Florida Sire S. winner Octane by six lengths,
with graded stakes winner Sole Volante another head back in third place.
But here's the problem—there
isn't a single clear pacesetter entered in the Harlan's Holiday field. In fact,
many of the entrants are obvious off-the-pace types. It seems unlikely O'Connor
will receive as favorable a setup as in his allowance victory.
A slow tempo would surely
play to the strengths of #4
Simplification. The accomplished three-year-old is something of a Gulfstream
Park specialist; his 6-3-1-2 record over the Gulfstream dirt track towers over
his 6-0-0-1 record over all other tracks and surfaces.
Not that Simplification hasn't
run well at a couple of other tracks this year. He came home fourth in the
Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, beaten only 3 1/2 lengths against a
strong field. He also finished fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx
Racing, beaten only by Grade 1 winners Taiba, Zandon, and Cyberknife. Most
recently, Simplification finished seventh against a deep group of rivals in the
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland.
Simplification is dropping
in class for the Harlan's Holiday, but returning to Gulfstream might be a bigger
benefit. He thrived over this track last winter, dominating the Mucho Macho Man
S. by four lengths and the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths. He also
finished a troubled second in the Holy Bull S. (G3) and pressed a fast pace
when third in the Florida Derby (G1).
Simplification has tactical
speed and figures to enjoy a perfect trip setting or stalking a slow pace in
the Harlan's Holiday. He enters off sharp workouts at Gulfstream and appears
poised for a winning performance.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the graded stakes at Gulfstream this Saturday?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.