Before heading off for his annual winter vacation, Lawrence Durocher Jr.'s consistent campaigner Kharafa will have another chance to earn his first graded stakes victory in Saturday's $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream Park West.
The 35th running of the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Turf for 3-year-olds and up is one of two graded stakes on the 10-race program, along with the $100,000 My Charmer (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and older, also at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Trained by Tim Hills, 6-year-old Kharafa owns 11 wins, six of them in stakes, and $875,137 in purse earnings from 31 career starts. He has been off the board twice in graded company, finishing eighth in the 2014 Appleton (G3) at Gulfstream Park and seventh in the Oceanport (G3) on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park.
Prior to the Oceanport, Kharafa rallied to win the Elkwood Stakes July 4 by a neck over Grade 1 winner Lochte, who will be among the main contenders once again in the Tropical Turf.
“We kind of penciled this race in. If he was doing well, we were going to go for it and then he'll get the winter off,” Hills said. “He's 6 turning 7, but he's a very sound horse. He's fit and ready to go.”
A bay son of Kitalpha, Kharafa comes in off a head loss in the Oct. 24 Mohawk Stakes at Belmont Park to fellow New York-bred rival Lubash, winner of last year's Tropical Turf. Kharafa has finished in the top three in 10 of 12 career tries at 1 1/16 miles with five wins, but will be making his Gulfstream Park West debut.
“We've gotten so much rain lately the turf will probably have a lot of give in it, which he really likes,” Hills said. “He was always wanting to get a little bit rank early in the race. It was hard to get him to settle, but as he's gotten older he's settled a lot better. He's getting the hang of it. He's just a more mature horse.”
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride from post 8 at 117 pounds.
Upset winner of the 2014 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) for Crossed Sabres Farm and trainer Marcus Vitali, Lochte takes a two-race win streak into the Tropical Turf. Since returning from a summer stay in New Jersey, the 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding won the Mr. Steele Stakes Sept. 27 at Gulfstream Park and the Spider John Oct. 25 at GPW by a combined eight lengths, both as the favorite.
Before his recent success, Lochte had lost six straight starts, all in stakes, dating back to a optional claiming allowance score March 13 at Tampa Bay Downs, where he also took the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) in January.
“I think he's turned the corner for the better. He's definitely improving every day,” Vitali said. “He's doing good. Everything is pointing in the right direction with him. He's moving forward. He's a horse for course. He likes being in Florida. He really likes Gulfstream and he doesn't mind Gulfstream West.”
Matt Rispoli, aboard for each of the last three starts including both stakes wins, gets a return call from post 6 at topweight of 120 pounds.
“He's on his game right now,” Vitali said. “The horse has won a Grade 1; I don't see any reason why he can't compete with this field. But, it's a horse race and you've got to wish for everybody that their horse comes into the race right and they all run well. I just hope mine runs the best.”
Also entered are Take the Stand, a Group 3 winner in Argentina this winter making his fourth North American start; Key to Power, unraced since back-to-back stakes scores 19 days apart in September; All Included, third in the Bernard Baruch (G2) Sept. 7; Inchcape, third in the Elkwood and Monmouth Stakes (G2) this summer; Amigo and Flashlight and Good and Proper.
Saraguaro, winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic Preview Nov. 7, Lynx and Slim Shadey are entered for main track only.
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