Grade 1 winners Almanaar, Divisidero, Glorious Empire, Hi Happy and Quarteto de Cordas are prominent among a stacked field of 16 that includes nine other graded-stakes winners in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Fort Lauderdale on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The 62nd running of the Fort Lauderdale for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles over the newly refurbished turf course tops an 11-race program that includes five graded-stakes worth $600,000 in purses. First race post time is noon.
Also on tap are the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles featuring the return of Florida Derby winner Audible to graded-stakes competition; and a trio of $100,000 races for fillies and mares 3 and up – the six-furlong Sugar Swirl (G3) and one-mile Rampart (G3) on dirt and the My Charmer (G3) going one mile on the grass.
Glorious Empire, Hi Happy and Quarteto de Cordas each enter the Fort Lauderdale after finishing off the board in the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 3. Earlier on the same card, Divisidero was fourth and Almanaar 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
In addition to being the first Grade 2 on the 2018-19 Championship Meet stakes calendar, this year’s Fort Lauderdale also serves as a prelude to the inaugural $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), North America’s richest grass race, Jan. 26 at Gulfstream.
Matthew Schera’s Glorious Empire had a three-race win streak snapped in the Breeders’ Cup that included back-to-back front-running victories over a giving turf course at Saratoga in the Bowling Green (G2) and Sword Dancer (G1), the latter also at 1 ½ miles. He set the pace for a half-mile in the Turf but gave way and was eased to the wire by jockey Julien Leparoux.
“The race in the Breeders Cup, he put him on the rail and he said he just wasn’t traveling as well as he was at Saratoga on the turf. The soft ground and fast pace got us, and then Julien just took care of him,” trainer James ‘Chuck’ Lawrence II said. “He’s training super. It’s going to be a tough race but to think about the Pegasus or anything else and also with the Eclipse Awards coming up, he’s doing well so we thought we should give it a shot.”
With Leparoux on holiday, Lawrence awarded the mount on Glorious Empire to Hall of Famer Edgar Prado, who rode the 7-year-old gelding to a four-length victory June 28 at Delaware Park to kick off his win streak. They will break from the rail.
Gunpowder Farms’ Divisidero, like Glorious Empire based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., was never out of contention in the Mile and loomed a threat while racing five wide before coming up three-quarters of a length short at odds of 43-1.
It was the third time this year that 2016 and 2017 Turf Classic (G1) winner Divisidero had been beaten less than a length in a graded-stakes, while winning the Arlington Handicap (G3) by a half-length July 7. A debut winner in February 2015 at Gulfstream, Divisidero has placed in four career graded-stakes over the local turf, including a third in the 2017 Fort Lauderdale.
“He’s in Ocala right now and he’ll head down to Gulfstream the day before the race,” trainer Kelly Rubley said. “He’s doing great. He’s come back from the Breeders’ Cup in great form, and we’re hoping to have a fun year ahead with him.”
Regular rider Jevian Toledo will be in from Maryland to ride from Post 10.
Like Glorious Empire, trainer Todd Pletcher felt Hi Happy was compromised by the soft going in the Turf. An eight-time winner with more than $1.3 million in purses, the 6-year-old son of Pure Prize finished behind that rival in both the Bowling Green and Sword Dancer.
“We were kind of unlucky to kind of catch a little bit of soft ground with him twice at Saratoga and then the Breeders’ Cup was not to his liking,” Pletcher said. “We’re aware that could be the case but when you’re there you’re kind of hoping maybe a different soft course he would handle better. He likes firmer ground and hopefully we get that firmer ground here on the weekend.”
Hi Happy went nearly 10 months between races before returning to run third by a length in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) Feb. 10. In his subsequent start, he won the 1 ½-mile Pan American (G2) March 31 over the same turf course. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, he was beaten a neck in the 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker (G2) at Belmont Park.
“We’re looking forward to the Fort Lauderdale for him as a possible prep race for the new Pegasus turf race. It seems that he ran very well here last winter and that would be a great opportunity for him,” Pletcher said. “He really ran quite well in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last year first time off the bench. He’s run well at a mile and a quarter and his race in the [Knickerbocker] was very good. I think the mile and an eighth is maybe a tick short for him, but it will hopefully sharpen him up and set him up for a possible mile and three-sixteenths race. He seems to like the course, and it’s within his range.”
Two-time defending Championship Meet-leading rider Luis Saez has the call on Hi Happy from Post 5.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin entered both Shadwell Stable’s Grade 2 winner Qurbaan and Godolphin’s stakes winner Zennor in the Fort Lauderdale. Qurbaan has run twice since coming to the U.S. from France, winning the Bernard Baruch (G2) by a nose in his debut Sept. 3 before rallying to be third in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) Oct. 6.
“He was wide which is not always bad to be wide at Keeneland. I’m not sure sometimes if it’s not better out there, but he ran very well wide and finished third and ran an excellent race. We’re obviously going to a mile and an eighth but we think he’ll handle the mile and an eighth no problem,” McLaughlin said. “He’s doing very well.”
Zennor won the 2017 Lure Stakes at Saratoga and didn’t run again until returning in this year’s Lure Aug. 11, pressing the pace before tiring to sixth. In his most recent start, he was beaten a head in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Oct. 19 at Belmont Park. He is one of two also-eligibles in the Fort Lauderdale, along with Revved Up.
“He just got beat last time. He had some time off but came back good and then it was real soft the day he didn’t run well at Saratoga and then he came back and ran very well to just miss at Belmont. He’s a neat horse,” McLaughlin said. “It’s obviously a tough race but he’s ready to get back to a graded-stakes and we’ll hope for the best.”
Shadwell is also represented in the Fort Lauderdale with 2017 runner-up Almanaar, who went unraced for 16 months following his Gulfstream Park Turf win, capturing his return in an optional claiming allowance June 8 at Belmont. Prior to his run in the Breeders’ Cup, he was second in the Arlington Million (G1) and eighth in the Shadwell Turf Mile. Irad Ortiz Jr., favored to win the Eclipse Award as champion jockey, is up from Post 7.
Almanaar’s Chad Brown-trained stablemate, Juddmonte Farm’s homebred Projected, is also entered. He has gone winless in six starts since finishing second by a nose in defense of his win in the 2017 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G2) last fall at Laurel Park. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano has the mount from Post 3.
Quarteto de Cordas made his North American debut in the Breeders’ Cup, after winning five of 17 starts in Brazil including the Grande Premio Brasil (G1) June 10 and the Grande Premio Jose Buarque de Macedo (G3) in January. Brian Hernandez Jr. rides for trainer Ian Wilkes from Post 2.
Rounding out the field are multiple graded-stakes winners Blacktype, Mr Havercamp and Oscar Nominated; Grade 3 winners Postulation, Zulu Alpha and both Doctor Mounty and Inspector Lynley from Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey; and stakes winners Archer Road, Mr Cub and Swagger Jagger.