A winner every day he had an entry at Gulfstream Park last week, trainer Todd Pletcher ended the streak on a high note Saturday when 4-year-old Halladay led home a 1-3 finish for the barn in the $75,000 Sunshine Forever Stakes.
Halladay, winning his third race from his last four starts for Harrell Ventures, provided Pletcher with his third win of the day. Pletcher’s Saturday triple started when 2-year-old Hyperfocus won impressively on debut in the second race and Riggins broke his maiden three races before the Sunshine Forever.
A maiden winner last June, Halladay has turned into a different horse over the winter with two stakes victories to his name and his only loss since December coming in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes in February. The gelding went straight to the front in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile turf stakes and never looked back, stopping the clock in 1:38.66 and just off the course record of 1:38.10.
“I knew there was another speed so we just tried to break clean and see,” jockey Luis Saez said. “If he was right there, we’d take it and if not we can track somebody. But, he broke perfect and he was right there, so we took it. He was pretty relaxed. Around the first turn he was going very, very nice and relaxed. He came to the half-mile [pole] and when he felt the pressure, I just let him roll and he took off. He won pretty easy.”
Halladay pushed his earnings to $288,485 with five wins and only one off-the-board finish in 12 starts. Pletcher believes Halladay is getting better with every run. While he didn’t expect the gelding to run as well as he showed, Pletcher expected a big effort in the Sunshine Forever.
“He got to a good spot, settled nicely and relaxed. It really seems like he’s getting better and better,” Pletcher said. “You could kind of see it leading up to this race. He was really in good form and training a little more relaxed in a great rhythm. He was a happy horse.”
While closing out Pletcher’s triple, Halladay also gave Claiborne Farm sire War Front the first half of a quick double. Battle Of Blenheim completed the back end with a victory in the 10th, an optional at 1 mile on the grass.
Battle Of Blenheim ran for a $25,000 tag and was claimed from his half-length victory by Champion Equine and trainer J. David Braddy.
Maiden Winner of the Week: On the first Saturday 2-year-old race of the year at Gulfstream, debuting 2-year-old Hyperfocus helped WinStar Farm’s leading first-season sire Constitution hit a major milestone by becoming his 50th winner – and first from his second crop.
Already the sire of Grade 1 winner and Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz The Law among five graded stakes winners, the first runner of the stallion’s second crop shows it is just as full of promise as the first. The colt broke slow but rebounded to race just 3 lengths off Breakthrough.
Hyperfocus showed a bit of greenness in the stretch but overcame his lapse of attention to beat Peppi by 1 1/4 lengths with Breakthrough third as Nyquist’s first runner.
A $100,000 Keeneland September purchase for Repole Stable, Hyperfocus has plenty of class in his pedigree. The first foal out of Discreet Meating, his dam is a half-sister to Argentinean champion 2-year-old Forty Greeta and Grade 2 winner Honorable Dillon.
Horse to Watch: Jumped up to Grade 1 level in his third start last year after a 3 1/2-length maiden victory at Saratoga Race Course, Tap It To Win finished 10th in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders Futurity and the following Street Sense Stakes to end his season.
Kept on the bench until Saturday’s 11th race optional at Gulfstream, the 3-year-old Tapit ridgling looked like the break did him well with a 1 1/2-length win.
The Live Oak homebred raced just behind the leading favorite I’ll Fight Dempsey and looked professional when asked to go wide swinging into the stretch. The colt admittedly has a lot to do to prove that his two stakes losses last year are behind him, but his connections obviously think a lot of his talent if his 2-year-old placements were any indication.
Handicapper’s Report: John Shapazian picked nine winners from the 22 races run Saturday at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs to lead the quartet of handicappers from The Saratoga Special.
John’s winners at Gulfstream were Hyperfocus in the second, Sand Drift in the fourth, Poseidons Princess in the fifth, Battle Of Blenheim in the 10th and Tap It To Win in the 11th. He also picked Tiz Approved in the second, Overpraise in the fourth, On A Spree in the eighth and R Next Roll in the ninth at Tampa. He leads the season’s standings with a record of 28-for-79 (35.4 percent).
Tom Law and Charles Bedard each picked six winners Saturday. Tom’s winners at Gulfstream were Poseidons Princess, Foolish Humor in the seventh, Battle Of Blenheim and Tap It To Win. He also picked Americano in the first and On A Spree at Tampa. Tom sits second in the seasonal standings with a record of 24-for-79 (30.4 percent).
Charles’ Gulfstream winners were Riggins in the sixth, Foolish Humor and Battle Of Blenheim, while he also tabbed Tiz Approved, On A Spree and R Next Roll at Tampa. Charles ranks third with a mark of 23-for-79 (29.1 percent).
Rob Whitlock picked five winners Saturday – Hyperfocus in the second, Poseidons Princess and Battle Of Blenheim at Gulfstream and The Stifler in the third and R Next Roll at Tampa. He trails on the season with a record of 18-for-79 (22.8 percent).
Bits and Pieces: After an uncharacteristic showing in the Grade 3 Fantasy last weekend, champion 2-year-old filly British Idiom will reportedly be sidelined for 60 days due to a chip in her right front ankle. … Japan’s Group 1 Victoria Mile is a late edition to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series with race for fillies and mares providing a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The Victoria Mile runs next Sunday. … The first shipments of horses arrived on the grounds at Churchill Downs Monday morning, including last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, graded stakes winner Mr. Money and Grade 3 Matt Winn contenders Major Fed and Mr. Big News. … Sheila Rosenblum’s champion La Verdad was euthanized Sunday due to complications of colic at the age of 10. Named champion female sprinter in 2015, La Verdad delivered a colt by Into Mischief May 4.