Consistent Imagining Tops GP Turf 'Cap

Imagining Red Smith 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Sue Kawcynski
Phipps Stable homebred Imagining has been a consistent barn favorite for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, capping the 2013 season with his elusive first graded stakes victory.            

The lightly raced 6-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway will go after an even bigger prize on Sunday in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1), the lone Grade 1 grass stakes of the Champions meet.            

First or second in 10 of 14 lifetime starts, seven of them victories, Imagining takes a two-race win streak into the 1 1/8-mile turf test, which shares the card with the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) and the $150,000 Hurricane Bertie (G3).            

“He’s a neat horse. We had some offers to buy him to go to stud, and Mr. Phipps said, ‘If he’s OK, let’s try to race him,’ so that’s what we’re going to do,” McGaughey said. “I think he’ll run good. This is the right spot. There’s no Point of Entry or Animal Kingdom in there, so we’ll just see how it goes and get him started.”            

Imagining has tried Grade 1 company before, finishing second in the 2011 Hollywood Derby to end his 2-year-old season, and sixth in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational last fall behind Grade 1 winners Little Mike, Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution as well as multiple graded stakes winner Twilight Eclipse.            

Following the Joe Hirsch, Imagining returned to Belmont Park to win the 1 ¼-mile Bowl Game Stakes in front-running fashion, then came from off the pace to win the Red Smith Handicap (G3) by a half-length in 2:18.43 for 11 furlongs.            

“I liked the way he did it. He kind of settled back off the pace and seemed to be happy there, and he pretty much dominated the race from there,” McGaughey said. “I was very pleased with his last race, so we’ll just see. He’s doing real well.”            

Also looking for his first Grade 1 victory is Summer Front, trained by Christophe Clement for Waterford Stable. The seven-time stakes winner has won three Grade 3 races and captured the Fort Lauderdale (G2) is his most recent effort at Gulfstream on Jan. 11.            

The 5-year-old son of War Front has two wins and a third from three lifetime starts at Gulfstream, also taking the Dania Beach Stakes in 2011.    

“He’s doing great and training well,” Clement said. “We’re excited about it. He’s been very good since the last race, and I was delighted with the last race. He’s a fit horse. Obviously, he likes it at Gulfstream. The next race will be a tougher race. There’s no easy Grade 1, but we’ll give it a go. Now is the time to try our best.”            

A winner of 11 races and more than $1.3 million in purse earnings, Boisterous will be making his 29th career start in the Turf Handicap and first for new trainer Todd Pletcher. Bred by Cynthia Phipps, the 7-year-old son of Distorted Humor was purchased for $350,000 by Gary Barber at the 2013 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.            

Boisterous was first or second in six consecutive races from October 2012 to July 2013, winning the Man o’ War (G1), Monmouth Stakes (G2) and Red Smith (G2) and Knickerbocker (G3) handicaps. Most recently he was sixth by less than five lengths in his Knickerbocker defense on Oct. 12.            

“He’s doing great, and we’re looking forward to getting him started,” Pletcher said. “There’s always a little bit of a getting-to-know-the-horse period, but he’s 7 now. He’s the consummate professional, so he’s been very straightforward. He seems to do everything like a seasoned veteran.”            

Pletcher will also saddle Charming Kitten, an allowance winner at Gulfstream on Jan. 11 who also took the Kitten’s Joy Stakes and was second in the Palm Beach (G3) last winter.            

Amira’s Prince has won all four of his starts since coming to the U.S. from his native Ireland, but hasn’t raced since taking the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds last March. He is 3-for-3 at Gulfstream, winning a pair of optional claiming allowances before a 3 ¾-length victory in the Mac Diarmida (G2).            

“He just wasn’t moving well,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said of the layoff. “We gave him some time off, turned him out for 90 days and brought him back. He’s doing fine. There was no surgery or anything like that, he just needed a vacation. He’s doing well. I hope he can pick it up where he left off.”            

Also running for Mott will be Wachtel Stable’s Tetradrachm, runner-up in two straight graded stakes including the Fort Lauderdale, three-quarters of a length behind Summer Front.            

Another hard-hitting 7-year-old in the field is Nikki’s Sandcastle, making his 37th lifetime start. Winner of the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland last October, he was a late-running third to Summer Front in the Ft. Lauderdale. Three of his nine career wins have come at Gulfstream, including the 2012 El Prado Stakes.            

Lochte steps up into stakes company for the first time off an optional claiming allowance win at Gulfstream on Jan. 24. The 4-year-old gelded son of Medaglia d’Oro has hit the board in each of his last seven starts.




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