Soaring Empire, who was winless in graded stakes company last season, got his 2011 campaign off to a nice start when he turned back even-money favorite Morning Line and held off multiple graded-stakes winner Rule in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 8 at Gulfstream Park.
Soaring Empire stalked the pace of Morning Line, took over turning for home under Jose Lezcano, and was never seriously threatened in the stretch while notching his 1 1/4-length score. It was the first graded victory for the 4-year-old son of Empire Maker. Cam Gambolati trains the dark bay/brown colt for Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock.
Morning Line, who entered the one-mile Hal’s Hope off a hard-luck runner-up finish in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) and is expected to be one of the top older horses this year, found himself on the lead after breaking sharply under John Velazquez. The Tiznow colt raced through a moderate opening quarter in :24.21 but went quicker through a testing half-mile in :46.56 and six furlongs in 1:10.30.
Soaring Empire, closer to the pace than usual, pressed the favorite throughout until taking over just beyond the quarter-pole. He opened up a two-length lead with a furlong remaining.