Candidate and Tyler Gaffalione victorious in the Dania Beach (Lauren King)
Gulfstream Park Press Release
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.— Mark Grier’s stakes winner Candidate, undefeated in three starts on turf, steps up to graded company looking to extend his win streak to four races in in Saturday’s $175,000 Kitten’s Joy (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Kitten’s Joy is among five graded stakes for 3-year-olds and the first of two on the grass on a 12-race program headlined by the $250,000 Holy Bull (G3), the next step on Gulfstream’s road to the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) April 1.
A chestnut son of 2016 Preakness (G1) winner Exaggerator, Candidate began his career last fall at Laurel Park running seventh in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight originally carded for the grass but contested over a sloppy main track. He rebounded with a front-running 2 ¼-length triumph in a similar spot going 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
Candidate hasn’t lost since, rolling to a 4 ½-length optional claiming allowance score Dec. 22 at Tampa Bay Downs to cap his juvenile season, and opening his sophomore campaign with a 1 ¾-length victory in the one-mile Dania Beach Jan. 7 at Gulfstream, also in gate-to-wire fashion.
“When you go a mile and an eighth for the first time on a sloppy track for a 2-year-old, it’s kind of a lot to ask. He really folded at the quarter pole. I wish that he would have hung on a little longer, but he’s been very impressive breezing on the Tapeta at Fair Hill when he had him there. On the dirt he seems like he levels off all the time,” trainer Arnaud Delacour said.
“He might be a horse that gets stronger with time. He’s only a May foal and we’re only in February, so that’s early. He’s got time to improve. I think he’s so efficient on the turf right now that I would change anything,” he added. “We definitely like him and what he has accomplished in the last three months pretty much has been pretty amazing.”
Candidate was sent off at more than 7-1 in the Dania Beach, but was able to control the pace and took a three-length lead into the stretch with plenty left to hold off a late rally from Major Dude. Tyler Gaffalione rides back from the rail in a field of eight.
“He was not pressured which always helps. In saying that he kept going and he galloped out very well, so I don’t think that the extra sixteenth of a mile is going to be an issue but we’re hoping for a good performance,” Delacour said. “He’s doing well right now. He’s just won three times in a row and he likes the track over there. I don’t know if we can have the same setup as we did the last time but he should be competitive in that spot.”
Spendthrift Farm’s Major Dude returns in the Kitten’s Joy as one of two horses from Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, along with Three Diamonds Farm’s Dude N Colorado. Major Dude started his career on the dirt, winning his unveiling and running third in the Sapling over his first three starts before capturing the 1 1/16-mile Pilgrim (G2) over a yielding course at Aqueduct in his grass debut.
From there, Major Dude was pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), where he raced in midpack before finishing ninth, and kicked off his season running second as the favorite in the Dania Beach.
“At some point we’ll probably give him another try on the dirt. We just felt like this weekend we’d stick to the grass,” Pletcher said. “I just thought last time he got a little too far back behind a slow pace and got bottled up a little too long. Once he got clear, he was closing. He just ran out of time. He’s a nice, consistent colt.”
Bred in England, Dude N Colorado returns to the grass after a front-running 3 ¼-length off-the-turf maiden special weight triumph Dec. 24 at Gulfstream, contested on the all-weather Tapeta course. He’ll be making his stakes debut, having run third in a maiden event on the Aqueduct turf in mid-October.
“I thought he ran well in his debut and improved, even though it was on the synthetic. We feel like he likes the turf and we felt like with the way he’s been training he deserves a chance in there,” Pletcher said. “To his credit, it doesn’t seem like you see a lot of wire-to-wire winners on the Tapeta, so that was good.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount on Major Dude from Post 4, while Luis Saez will ride Dude N Colorado from Post 6.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse entered the pair of Boppy O and Lights of Broadway. John Oxley and Breeze Easy’s Boppy O was a neck winner of the 1 1/16-mile With Anticipation (G3) last summer at Saratoga in his turf and stakes debut but has been off the board in each of his last two starts, both in graded company, the most recent the Oct. 30 Street Sense (G3) on the dirt.
Oxley also owns Lights of Broadway, who notched back-to-back wins 14 days apart going a mile and 70 yards over Gulfstream’s Tapeta last fall including the Armed Forces. Most recently he finished second to Pletcher’s Ari Gold in the 7 ½-furlong Pulpit Dec. 10 on the Gulfstream turf.
Tami Bobo and Lugamo Racing Stable’s Congruent, winner of an off-the-turf Laurel Futurity that ran third in the Pulpit and fourth in the Dania Beach; Dare to Dream Stable’s Moon Cat, a last out maiden winner Jan. 7 at Gulfstream; and R. Larry Johnson’s French-bred Souzak, who had a three-race win streak snapped following a troubled trip in his North American debut in the Dania Beach, complete the field.