There are four graded stakes this weekend, all taking place in the warmer climes of the country; Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita are presenting one each on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday's Gulfstream card is highlighted by the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale, a 1 1/16-mile turf test for older horses. The morning line favorite, Pants On Fire, cross-entered in Sunday's G3 Hal's Hope, will draw in if the race is taken off the grass. Off since winning the Skip Away last May at Monmouth, he returned Nov. 17 in the Delta Mile, running sixth of seven as the odds-on favorite. G2 Bernard Baruch winner Dominus caught some tough competition in his next two outs, and should be on or near the pace here with Fifty Proof, a Woodbine-based Roger Attfield trainee. Nikki's Sandcastle, first or second in his last five starts, came from waaaaaay back to win the El Prado over this course on Dec. 22.
Across the country, Santa Anita is host to the G2 San Fernando, 1 1/16 miles on dirt restricted to newly-turned 4-year-olds. With the attrition of last year's sophomore crop, the San Fernando has just one entrant with a graded stakes win. Handsome Mike, tried in ten graded stakes already, won the G2 Pennsylvania Derby in September at odds of nearly 20-1. He was not a factor in his two following races, the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Hollywood Derby, both G1. Bob Baffert, a four-time winning trainer of this race, comes into this with no less than four entries, among them, Fed Biz. A son of Giant's Causeway, Fed Biz had his biggest win in the El Cajon during the Del Mar meet. He exits the G1 Malibu, run here on Dec. 26, where he was not a factor. The connections of last year's San Fernando winner, Tapizar, try this year with Tritap, entering this off an allowance win at Churchill in November.
Csaba looks to make it four in a row in Gulfstream's Hal's Hope when he takes on nine others in this one-turn mile event on the main track. The 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy found his stride last October at Calder, capturing the Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths, then going on to wins in the G3 Fred Hooper (dead-heat) and the Harlan's Holiday. Delegation, never off the board in eight lifetime starts, is a graded winner in Canada, and most recently, runner-up to Csaba in the Harlan's Holiday. Between those two starts, he was third in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Also entered here is multiple graded stakes winner Pool Play, now an 8-year-old, with over $1.2 million in earnings.
Sunday's Santa Anita feature is the G2 San Gabriel, where two turf veterans, Slim Shadey and Jeranimo, will meet for the first time. Slim Shadey, known for his prowess at longer distances, shortens up for this 1 1/8-mile test, while Jeranimo stretches out from his usual mile races. Jeranimo, however, is proven at this distance, and, in fact, won this race in 2010. The San Gabriel was not run in 2011, and the Michael Pender trainee ran second in last year's edition. Other probable starters include Juniper Pass, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
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