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Xpressbet Race of the Week: Tropical Turf at Gulfstream Park

by Jeremy Plonk

January 9, 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2019
By Jeremy Plonk

The Lead:
Saturday's stakes co-features at Gulfstream Park are middle-distance turf tests, first up the fillies/mares in the Grade 3 Marshuas River in Race 8 and then the colts/geldings in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf in Race 10. Both stakes are part of the late pick four and pick five on a card that begins with 3-year-old races in the first 7 offerings on the program.

Field Depth:
MARAUD has won at the Grade 2 level, while A THREAD OF BLUE is a Grade 3 winner and Grade 2-placed. GIDU and TUSK are Grade 3-placed. There hasn't been a ton of graded stakes success among this field of 10, so the class separation does not appear great.

This race should cook early. GIDU is a fast turf sprinter stretching back out to the mile. GEMONTEER has essentially tried to wire his last 3 races. A THREAD OF BLUE has made the front in nearly each of his dozen starts. Horses like rail-drawn EMPIRE OF WAR and BIG AGENDA in the 3-hole have some tactical speed and a reason to use it from their posts. TUSK also can push the envelope. Keep in mind the Gulfstream Park turf has been very friendly to early speed; but this pace scenario is certainly fast and theoretically open to a closer.

​​Our Eyes:
A THREAD OF BLUE has banked $1 million with 5 wins in 12 starts, including a perfect 3-for-3 at Gulfstream Park. The newly turned 4-year-old has yet to race outside age-restricted company, however, and he's absolutely had some soft pace scenarios in his favor. His last 9 races on turf have all seen opening half-miles in :47-3/5 or slower, 6 of those over :48. He won the Dania Beach and Grade 3 Palm Beach at last year's Championship Meet and retains regular rider Luis Saez for Kiaran McLaughlin. But he's been beaten the past 2 times he's been favored, and this rise into all-age racing can dull a resume built up against a small pool of eligibles in the former 3YO-only turf ranks.

GIDU is a fast son of the great Frankel. But he's lost 5 in a row overall, and has dropped 11 straight stakes decisions since winning the May 2018 Paradise Creek. You must respect this horse's raw ability, as well as the John Velazquez-Todd Pletcher combination that speaks for itself. But given the pace scenario, GIDU really will have to work for this at what probably will be an under-laid price. I'm a big fan of the horse; but will pass in this spot.

MARAUD had carried the Pletcher banner for much of his career, but was claimed for $80,000 at Saratoga in August when offered in an optional claimer. Joe Orseno now has him after a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth behind the veteran Divisidero. But as mentioned with A THREAD OF BLUE, you'll notice how much tougher things got for MARAUD last year when exiting the restricted 3-year-old ranks. He went 0-for-5 in all-ages racing, following his sophomore season that saw him win the Grade 2 Crown Royal American Turf and miss the Grade 2 Hall of Fame by a nose. Paco Lopez picks up the mount and he's aggressive early in races, especially with an inner-draw. That could be a tough fit in this race.

Trainer Mike Maker has the uncoupled pair of EMPIRE OF WAR and EXULTING. EMPIRE OF WAR makes his first try against elder horses and second for Maker after performing for Todd Pletcher. EMPIRE OF WAR didn't show much in his first outing for Maker behind a slow pace at Fair Grounds and after a troubled start. EXULTING is the more appealing of the pair to this eye. The 7-year-old Tapit gelding was claimed for $62,500 in April of last year, immediately won the Oaklawn Mile on dirt and was sent against some very strong stakes company throughout the summer. He pivoted to the grass at Kentucky Downs and has performed solidly since with strong BRIS late pace figures. He was beaten just over 2 lengths by the talented Instilled Regard in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale over this course in December. Top pilot Irad Ortiz, Jr. now takes the mount and he looks set to deliver with a hot pace in front of him.

TUSK exits a third in the Claiming Crown Emerald over this course and distance. Saffie Joseph, Jr. trained a trio of stakes winners last Saturday at Gulfstream Park and just acquired this one via $32,000 claim in late October. TUSK has finished in the superfecta in his last 8 starts against easier competition.

Most Certain Exotics Contender: A THREAD OF BLUE is 10-for-10 in the superfecta on turf lifetime. While I will play against him on the win end, he remains a formidable presence for the minor awards. Favorites are a strong 18: 10-3-2 in Gulfstream Park graded stakes on turf since the start of 2019, according to Betmix.

​Best Longshot Exotics Contender: EXULTING was 15-1 and 49-1 in his pair of turf stakes bids, but won't be that kind of price this time. Still, he should offer a big chance at reasonable odds.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll): ​​$80 win EXULTING. $10 exacta box EXULTING and A THREAD OF BLUE.