Given the fast pace lined up in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, it makes sense to look for closers that can take advantage.
Luckily, there are two interesting choices set to rally at a price in this field: Haikal and Expert. The former makes his second start off a 274-day layoff, while the latter runs off a 282-day break.
Haikal is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and owned by Shadwell Stables, which are obviously familiar connections to the public. His pedigree rings a bell, too, as Haikal is a half-brother to the short-winded Takaful.
In contrast to Takaful's speedy nature, Haikal uses a closing style. He returned in a Jan. 5 allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct and sat two lengths off a slow pace before running on for second by a nose to the early pacesetter Lone Rock. Another 7 ¼ lengths separated Haikal from Small Bear in third, which is normally a good sign of a fast race.
Lone Rock did not run well next time, though, only finishing a modest fourth in the General George Stakes (G3) at Laurel Park. Also, the third-place Small Bear ran a disappointing sixth in another Aqueduct optional claimer, 11 ¼ lengths behind Sir Winston.
But Haikal owns back class from the 2019 Derby trail, when he won the Gotham Stakes (G3) at this trip and ran third to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial (G2). Tacitus went on to run third in the Kentucky Derby, as well as second in the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and Travers (G1).
Plus, Lone Rock actually herded out Haikal in the stretch. Some observers believed Lone Rock caused enough interference to get disqualified.
As seen on XBTV, Haikal worked great in company with True Timber on Feb. 21 at Palm Meadows leading up to this stakes return. Watch how True Timber is asked to keep up.
Even in a field as deep as this, Haikal's 10-1 morning line odds are generous, to say the least. Realistically, expect such a familiar name to settle around 9/2, which is still fair.
Expert, meanwhile, made his last start eight months ago in a Belmont Park allowance optional claimer. After moving up on the outside, Expert took aim on the leaders in the stretch. But it seemed like he hung as Preservationist won.
As it turns out, Expert lost to quite a good horse. Preservationist went on to capture the Suburban Stakes (G2) and Woodward Stakes (G1) before retiring to stud in Kentucky. Given what Preservationist accomplished later on, it is hard to knock Expert.
Prior to the runner-up finish, Expert rose through the ranks with a four-race win streak. After taking a $40,000 claiming race at Aqueduct, he was haltered by trainer Linda Rice and won three more races impressively.
For this race, his new trainer listed is Domenick Schettino, although it is notable that Expert has been working in company with Jimmy Jerkens-trained horses such as Point to Remember and Mihos. Give the Feb. 21 work with Point to Remember a view on XBTV, as Expert overpowers him late.
If Expert is ready off the layoff, he can contend. In all likelihood, Expert will get lost on the board, making him attractive value-wise too.
To touch upon one more horse, Mr Freeze is the class of this race. He recently finished second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and third in the Clark Stakes (G1) last November. Now Mr Freeze shortens up to one mile.
But as suggested above, the fast pace scenario is likely to occur. TimeformUS Pace Projector codes the race in red, with Mr Freeze expected to sit close to the likes of Rare Form, Zenden and True Timber. Bodexpress is listed as fifth in the projection, but he could flash his speed from the rail too.
Mr Freeze is still not one to take lightly, especially if the pace ends up slower than expected. He could also end up handling the pace.
Besides the pace scenario, the value on Mr Freeze is probably not there. He is listed at a generous 7/2 on the morning line, but is that realistic for the Pegasus runner-up?
Haikal and Expert are the two horses to use assuming the speed doesn't scratch out of this race. It is always important to pay attention to any changes in the given pace scenario.
If the field stays in tact, both of them own the right talent and will benefit from a contested pace. Mr Freeze is the third one to have on tickets if there's room.
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