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Csaba the "Now" Horse in Hal's Hope

Gulfstream Park
Photo: MEC
Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff’s  Csaba is the "now" horse.

The 4-year-old has streaked to three consecutive commanding stakes victories for trainer Phil Gleaves, the most recent Dec. 16 when drawing off to a 3 3/4 length victory over Gary Barber's Delegation in the $100,000 Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream at 1 1/16 mile.

Come Sunday, those two will face off again in a field of 10 older horses in the $100,000 Hal's Hope at a one-turn mile. Luis Saez gets the return call on Csaba and John Velazquez will be on Delegation for trainer Mark Casse.

A son of Kitten’s Joy, Csaba turns back in distance after reeling off victories in the ‘off the turf’ Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths at Calder on Oct. 13 and the Fred Hooper Handicap (G3) there by seven lengths on Nov. 14 before the impressive score in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes.

"I like the turn back,” said Gleaves. “Woody (Stephens) made a habit of doing that over the years,” referring to Gleaves’ Hall of Fame mentor for whom he was a top assistant until going out on his own in the mid-80s. “If all goes well in the Hal’s Hope, the ($500,000) Donn Handicap (G1) would be next on the radar.” Gleaves purchased Csaba privately for Hollander and Shapoff as an un-raced 2-year-old in “April or May” of 2011.

Delegation was making his first start in the Harlan’s Holiday since a good third-place try behind Tapizar and Rail Trip in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. The son of Speightstown had won the Durham Cup (G3) at Woodbine on Polytrack in his previous start and had a very consistent 8-4-2-2 record in 2012.

Casse also entered William S. Farish, Jr.’s 8-year-old Pool Play as a supplementary entry into the Hal’s Hope with his regular rider Miguel Mena flying in for the mount in the veteran stakes performer’s first start since finishing eighth behind Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.

A son of Silver Deputy, Pool Play won the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (G2) in Chicago in his previous appearance, also run at 1 ¼ miles. He posted his biggest career victory with a 36-to-1 upset in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs in June of 2011 prior to a one-year layoff.

The ‘wild card’ entry in the Hal’s Hope is Harvey Clarke and partners’ 5-year-old Soldat, who has flashed brilliance on occasion while a big disappointment at other times in his 11-race career. Jockey Javier Castellano rides the son of War Front for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin as he makes only his third start since finishing 11th of 19 behind Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Soldat appeared bound for a career on turf when winning the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old in 2010, but his career took a sharp turn to the Derby Trail after a 10-length allowance score on the main track here and two-length victory in the in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) here early in 2011.

His career once again appeared re-directed to turf after he posted an impressive three-length victory on turf over the Gulfstream course in early March last year, but was sidelined again with a soft tissue injury until returning with a disappointing sixth-place finish in an overnight stakes on turf at Aqueduct last out on Nov. 17.

“We’re looking at the future. It’s probably a good time to try him back on the dirt and see what happens,” McLaughlin said. “If he doesn’t run well, we can put him back on the turf. But the races on the turf down here are going to be extremely difficult with Animal Kingdom and Point of Entry and others. We thought it would be a good time to switch to the dirt and see how it goes.”

Another contender in the Hal’s Hope on his best form would be George and Lori Hall’s 5-year-old Pants On Fire and jockey Paco Lopez aboard for trainer Kelly Breen, who also entered the son of Jump Start for ‘main track only’ in Saturday’s $150,000 Fort Lauderdale Handicap (G2) on turf.

Pants On Fire emerged as a Kentucky Derby prospect early in 2011 when he won the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds with Mucho Macho Man third before finishing ninth of 19 in the ‘Run for the Roses’ behind Animal kingdom. He ran a very big race to win a one-mile allowance race here by 4 ½ lengths last March in his only previous start over this track.

Pants On Fire went on to finish sixth in the $1 million Charles Town Classic (G2) in April and won the Skip Away Stakes at Monmouth Park in late May, but didn’t run again until finishing sixth as the odds-on favorite in the $150,000 Delta Mile at Delta Downs in Louisiana on Nov. 17 when he acted up at the gate and missed the break.

Completing the field for the Hal’s Hope are Silverton Hill LLC’s Swagger Jack, Corey Lanerie; Sullivan Lane Stable’s Associate, Joel Rosario; George Kerr’s Good Morning Diva, Manoel Cruz; JEOG Racing’s Scatman, Jose Lezcano; and Jim Bakke and Gerry Isbister’s Cool Blue Red Hot, Joe Bravo.

 

 

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