Jordan Wycoff's Tusk, racing second time off the claim for red-hot trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. and facing graded company for the first time in more than three years, found room between horses approaching the stretch and powered home to capture Saturday's $100,000 Tropical Turf (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The 42nd running of the one-mile Tropical Turf was the second of two graded-stakes for 4-year-olds and up on the grass following the $150,000 Marshua's River (G3), won by Magic Star.
Tusk ($19), third in the Claiming Crown Emerald in his previous start Dec. 7 at Gulfstream, completed the distance in 1:32.83 over a firm course under jockey Tyler Gaffalione. It was Gaffalione's second win of the day and the third for Joseph, putting him atop the Championship Meet standings with 15 wins through 32 days.
“Today, he got a perfect trip,” Joseph said. “The speed went and he dropped in behind them. This is probably his best distance – a mile. I know he's won further, but if he gets a fast run mile it fits him really good.”
Gemonteer, sent off at 23-1, was sent to the lead by jockey Emisael Jaramillo where they were pressed on the inside Hall of Famer John Velazquez and Gidu through brisk fractions of 22.91 and 45.22 seconds. Favored at 8-5 in the field of nine, A Thread of Blue raced in the clear in third while Gaffalione settled Tusk along the rail in fourth.
Gidu went on as Gemonteer, who had won his previous two starts, began to drop back around the turn when A Thread of Blue swung to the outside to mount a challenge and Gaffalione slipped between Gemonteer and Gidu to launch his bid.
“He carried me the whole way around there. I took a nice hold and he traveled really well throughout,” Gaffalione said. “Coming into the stretch, there was a spot that opened up between Johnnie and Jaramillo. I had enough horse at that point, so when I chirped to him he exploded right through there and finished the job.”
Tusk overtook Gidu once straightened for home and opened up once clear. Despite racing on demanding fractions that included a six-furlong split of 1:08.48, Gidu held strong for second with Maraud coming on late for third. A Thread of Blue, undefeated in three previous tries at Gulfstream including the Dania Beach and Palm Beach (G3) last winter, edged fellow graded winner Exulting for fourth.
The Tropical Turf was the second start for Tusk, a gelded 7-year-old son of Tapit, who Joseph claimed for $32,000 out of a front-running win last October at Belmont Park. He encountered some trouble in the Claiming Crown but was only beaten two lengths. Second in the 2016 El Camino Real Derby (G3), Tusk's last graded attempt came in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) in December 2016.
“I was really excited about him last time. He was training tremendous. It was a little disappointing he got beat,” Joseph said. “Today, he was jumping up again. That's why we took a shot – don't let that one race set us back and take a shot.”
Joseph won three stakes last Saturday, including the Mucho Macho Man with Chance It and Glitter Woman with Sound Machine – both ridden by Gaffalione – as well as the Kitten's Joy (G3) with Island Commish. He has five stakes wins for the meet, while the Tropical Turf was Gaffalione's seventh.
“All the credit goes to Saffie and his team. They've been on a roll and I've just been fortunate enough to ride for him,” Gaffalione said. “It's a great team over there. They're all such great people and I feel so privileged. He's been a great supporter of mine since I first started riding and I'm just so thankful.”
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