Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
On a weekend devoid of the popular Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park lead the way with graded stakes action. The biggest name expected in the entry box is Heart to Heart, the turf speedster who will begin his 8-year-old season modestly.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for this weekend:
Heart to Heart set for 2019 debut
Grade 1 winner Heart to Heart is set to make his 2019 debut in Gulfstream’s Grade 3, $100,000 Tropical Turf Stakes, a mile race for 4-year-olds and up. And at age 8, the Brian Lynch trainee doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Heart to Heart turned in a bullet five-furlong breeze over Palm Meadows Training Center’s turf on New Year’s Eve, completing the work in 58.30. He’s won five of seven starts at Gulfstream Park, including his first Grade 1 last year in the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes.
From 38 career starts, Heart to Heart’s record stands at 15-6-3 and his earnings exceed $2 million. After his first Grade 1, he notched back-to-back top level scores in Keeneland’s Maker’s 46 Mile.
Heart to Heart lost the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita by a neck before two off the board finishes to round out the season.
A solid run in the Tropical Turf could springboard him to the Canadian Turf (G3) March 2, a race he won in 2016-17, and a hopeful defense of his Maker’s 46 Mile back at Keeneland April 12.
“He still wants to run,” Lynch said last month, “and so long as he’s productive, we’ll keep rocking and rolling with him, and we’ll have another good year with him.”
Other Tropical Turf nominations include multiple Grade 1 winner Divisidero, fifth in Gulfstream’s Fort Lauderdale (G2) last out, and Grade 3 winner Doctor Mounty, eighth in the Fort Lauderdale. Divisidero last worked a mile in 1:01 at Classic Mile in Ocala Jan. 5, and Doctor Mounty made a four-furlong move over Payson Park’s turf that day in 48.20.
Lynch goes for stakes double with La Signare
Lynch has also confirmed La Signare for the Grade 3, $150,000 Marshua’s River Stakes for fillies and mares 4 and up. The race is run at 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream turf.
La Signare, a 4-year-old French-bred filly, won second time out in France at 2, then made three U.S. starts last season. She was second in a Keeneland allowance before leading every step of the Wonder Again Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park. She faded to 10th after facing heavy pressure in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1).
The Marshua’s River will be her first start in six months. La Signare last worked New Year’s Eve at Palm Meadows, going five furlongs in 1:00.20 over the turf.
Hawksmoor could also make her 6-year-old debut in this race. The multiple graded stakes winner has hit the board 15 times from 22 career starts. She was winless from six starts last year, but ran second three times. She last raced in October and returned to the work tab in December at Tampa Bay Downs. Her last move was four furlongs in 50.80 on Jan. 2.
La Force leads La Canada nominations
La Force, Grade 1-placed three times in 2018, highlights the nominations in Santa Anita’s Grade 3, $100,000 La Canada Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. She opened up last season with a third-place finish in the race. The German-bred mare was second to Unique Bella in the Beholder Mile (G1) and the Clement L. Hirsch (G1), then lost the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) by less than a length to a rebounding Vale Dori.
The campaign was enough to send La Force to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, where she finished eighth. Trained by Patrick Gallagher, La Force returned to the work tab mid-December. She most recently traveled four furlongs in 49 seconds flat at Santa Anita.
La Force raced three times in Italy before making the move to Southern California. At first, she remained on the turf, but began to improve when switched to the dirt. She finished off 2017 with three runner-up efforts on the main track, then ran third in the La Canada before picking up an allowance win at Santa Anita.
Selcourt to defend her stakes win
Selcourt has been working regularly since early December for trainer John Sadler and, as with last year, is expected kick off her campaign in the $75,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes run Sunday at Santa Anita Park.
The Kalookan Queen is for fillies and mares 4 and up covering 6 ½ furlongs on the dirt.
Also nominated for Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Las Cienegas Stakes, for older fillies and mares sprinting 6 ½ furlongs on the turf, Selcourt has done better work on the main track.
The 5-year-old mare kicked off last season with three consecutive wins in the Kalookan Queen, Las Flores (G3) and Santa Monica (G2). She was then away over seven months before returning in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs, where she finished 12th.
Selcourt last worked at Santa Anita Jan. 5, going five furlongs in a minute flat. The work was the fastest of 106 at the distance over the main track.
Belvoir Bay and Diamondsandpearls also stand out on the Las Cienegas and Kalookan Queen nominations lists and have recent works.
Belvoir Bay won three consecutive turf stakes at Santa Anita last year – the Mizdirection, San Simeon (G3) and Monrovia (G2). All three were over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course. She shipped to Woodbine and took on the boys in the Highlander Stakes (G1), finishing fifth, before wrapping up the season in Keeneland’s Franklin County Stakes (G3), where she was second by three-quarters of a length.
Belvoir Bay last worked six furlongs in 1:13.80 at San Luis Rey Downs Jan. 3. She had the fastest time of seven works.
Diamondsandpearls, now 4, has only made three career starts. She was a Del Mar debut winner at 2, fourth in the Sorrento Stakes (G2), then was away for over a year before winning a Los Alamitos allowance optional claiming race going 5 ½ furlongs in September.
The Bob Baffert-trained filly worked four furlongs in 49.00 at Santa Anita Jan. 3.