Trainer Todd Pletcher admits the Fort Lauderdale is a “prep with some real teeth to it” as he looks to run both Grade 1 winner Halladay and stablemate Largent in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park event.
Saturday’s Grade 2 contest is viewed as a Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational stepping-stone, having moved to a mid-December slot in order to steer clear of the $1m January contest that was rebranded in 2019.
The 64th running of the Fort Lauderdale over one-mile-one-furlong is Saturday’s headline race on an 11-race program at Gulfstream Park.
A field of 10 have been declared for the race, with eight of them already winners at stakes level, six in graded company. Victory for either of his contenders would leave Pletcher sure they merit a Pegasus run next month.
“This is going to be a tough race. This is a prep with some real teeth to it,” said Pletcher, a two-time Fort Lauderdale winner. “I think if either one of them were able to perform well in here it would certainly tell us that they belong in the Pegasus.”
Halladay is undefeated in three races at Gulfstream, winning the 2019 Tropical Park Derby. He’s been in good form this season but the four-year-old War Front colt must now run a half-furlong further than at any time in his 15-race career.
He was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on his most recent start, having won the Grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga back in August. He had earlier finished fourth behind Fort Lauderdale-bound rival Somelikeithotbrown in the Bernard Baruch (G2) in July and his trainer is keen to explore a new trip with him now.
“We’re interested in trying to stretch him out. We know that he’s fond of the Gulfstream course so we felt like this was sort of a good opportunity to see how he would handle a little more distance,” Pletcher said.
“If this were to go really well it would put the Pegasus Turf in play, so that’s what we’re trying to find out.”
Pletcher felt the ground in the Breeders’ Cup Mile was “a touch softer than he really likes it” while revealing he was forced to miss an intended prep run before Keeneland.
Largent is also a regular winner around Gulfstream, with three wins in four previous visits.
The Into Mischief gelding netted his maiden stakes win in the Edward P. Evans in July at Colonial Downs and, on his most recent start, won the Bert Allen at Laurel Park in October.
Just like his stablemate, he’s trying out an extra half-furlong for the first time.
“He’s super consistent, always shows up and runs well. He, too, has always liked Gulfstream. He’s definitely one that is capable on the day,” Pletcher said of Largent. “I think as he’s matured he’s settled a little better, as has Halladay, I think that gives them both the chance of handling the added distance.”
Paco Lopez rides Largent from stall six, with Luis Saez partnering joint top-weight Halladay from the wide draw in stall ten in the Fort Lauderdale.