Friday, December 16, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (G3)

Getting Lucky at Gulfstream Park

By: Nicole Neulist, Blinkers-Off

Race 7: Harlan's Holiday Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:01pm EST

This year’s running of the Harlan’s Holiday is the sixth.  Inaugurated in 2011, it has always been run at a mile and a sixteenth through the Gulfstream dirt.  This year’s renewal is the first that carries a grade.  

 The race takes its name from multi-millionaire Ohio-bred Harlan’s Holiday.  He won three Grade I races during the course of his career, and two came at Gulfstream: the 2002 Florida Derby and the 2003 Donn Handicap.  The races most accomplished winners have been its most recent.  Two years ago Liam’s Map won the Harlan’s Holiday.  It was his first career stakes win, but he would go on to take the Woodward (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) the next year.  Last year’s winner, Valid, has been a beautiful combination of classy and durable.  His 12 wins in 37 starts include four graded stakes, and he went on to finish second in the Donn (GI) this year. 

Though officially named after Harlan's Holiday, this race could just as well be named after trainer Todd Pletcher.  After all, out of a seven-horse field, three runners hail from Pletcher's shedrow.  Keen Ice, third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last out, is the class of the bunch.  But, Gulfstream is a track that tends to favor more forward placements, which will not help him.  Keen Ice himself has tried Gulfstream twice, and been off the board both times.  Class should get him to about midpack here, making him logical for the bottom of a trifecta or superfecta.

But, to win?  Keen Ice’s stablemates appeal more.

Both Stanford and Madefromlucky come into this race off extended layoffs, but both have solid worktabs and a strong layoff trainer.  Madefromlucky gets the slight nod due to his running style.  With Stanford, Awesome Slew, and Applicator all doing their best from the front, Madefromlucky could trip out.  He can run well on the front, as he showed last out in the Excelsior, but has done most of his best work tracking a few lengths off.  He has successfully been able to do that at Gulfstream, including a second-place finish behind Valid in this race last year.  He has also been solid at the distance, never worse than second in three tries.

Stanford also has a claim here.  His ability to run competitively fresh off a lay speaks in his favour, and he has a worktab full of bullets leading into this spot.  He also has solid records at Gulfstream and over the distance.  The question for Stanford is the pace.  Though he has some long-ago races in which he won from just off the pace, he has done his best recent work right on the lead.  Stanford's ability to keep going in a pace battle is admirable, but with Awesome Slew and Applicator in the race, he will not have it easy on the front end.

Looking outside the Pletcher barn for a moment, Awesome Slew intrigues.  This will be a class test, as it will be this sophomore's first attempt against older.  But, even though he has speed, he has shown some ability to fight, and even some ability to stalk the pace and stay engaged.  The change away from Paco Lopez is a question, as Lopez has ridden Awesome Slew for all seven of his career starts, and Lopez has other rides at Gulfstream on Saturday.  But, Lopez has no ride in the Harlan's Holiday, making it look a calculated move on trainer Edward Plesa's end to give Joel Rosario the leg up.  Awesome Slew has been out of the starting gate since September, but has a solid string of works, and fired beautifully off an even longer break earlier this year.  If someone outside Todd Pletcher's barn springs the upset, Awesome Slew has the best claim.

#2 Madefromlucky (3/1)
#1 Stanford (2/1)
#4 Awesome Slew (6/1)

Longshot:  Two turns is still a question for lightly-raced #5 Hy Riverside (15/1).  He finished a well-beaten fourth behind Mr. Jordan last out in the Sunshine Millions Classic Preview, his first try going two turns.  But that was out at Gulfstream Park West.  Here HY RIVERSIDE returns to the flagship: a track over which he has three wins and four more money finishes in ten starts.  That last time out was also his first start since late August.  He could take a step forward second off the lay.  Hy Riverside's breeding is also fine for a mile and a sixteenth: by Macho Uno out of a Distorted Humor mare whose only other runner has won at two turns.  And, the pace should suit.  With so much front-end gas in the race, Hy Riverside should be rolling along late at a price.

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