Harvey Clarke and partners' 4-year-old Soldat made a very impressive return to competition Sunday at Gulfstream Park as he drew off to win a 1 1/16 miles turf test by three lengths as the 4-to-5 favorite under leading jockey Javier Castellano. It was his first start since finishing 11th behind Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last spring at Churchill Downs.
“It's nice to have him back,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of Soldat's victory. “He trained very well. I didn't give Javier (Castellano) any specific instructions. I didn't know whether he would end up close to the pace or not, but he rode him perfectly and we're pleased to have him (Castellano) ride.
“He'll be pointed for a campaign in major turf stakes this year. The options for his next start include the Maker's Mark (G1) at Keeneland (Apr. 13), the Woodford Reserve (G1) at Churchill Downs (May 7) or the Ft. Marcy (G3) at Aqueduct.”
A $150,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by War Front, Soldat earned his chance to get on the Derby trail here early last year when he won a nine-furlong allowance race on a 'sloppy' track by 11 ¾ lengths in January and the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) by two lengths in February. He went on to run in the Kentucky Derby despite a disappointing fifth-place in the Florida Derby (G1) here in early April.
Soldat showed plenty of ability on turf as a 2-year-old winning the With Anticipation Stakes (G3) at Saratoga, finishing second in the Pilgrim Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park and second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Churchill Downs that fall, but his connections felt he did enough in the two main track victories to be given the once in a lifetime chance in the Kentucky Derby.
Soldat paid $3.80 for $2 to win Sunday and was timed the distance in 1:41:18 over the 'firm' course. Charles Fipke's 4-year-old Fastest Magician finished second, a 1 ¼ lengths before Stipa Racing Stable's 80-to-1 longshot Numb Lips in the field of eight.
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