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Trainer Michael Maker, who has won the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park the last two years, seeks an unprecedented three-peat in the turf race with his trio of Soglio, Zulu Alpha, and Markitoff.
After winning the McKnight in 2017 with Taghleeb, and again last year with Oscar Nominated, Maker looks to become the first trainer to win three consecutive runnings of the turf event.
The McKnight will be run for the 51st time and joins the main events, the $9 million 2019 Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the $7 million 2019 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), as part of a spectacular day of racing in the making, featuring 12 races, including nine stakes, six graded, worth $17.125 million in purses.
Fourteen horses drew into the body of McKnight, with two also-eligibles.
Race 10 on Gulfstream Park's Saturday card with a Post Time of 4:14 PM
|1||Highland Sky||10-1||Chris Landeros
|3||Winter Union||15-1||Tyler Gaffalione
|4||Zulu Alpha||4-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|5||Johnny Bear||15-1||Luis Saez
|Michael De Paulo|
|6||Can'thelpbelieving (IRE)||12-1||Joe Bravo
|7||Canessar (FR)||5-1||Javier Castellano
|8||Hunting Horn (IRE)||8-1||Wayne Lordan
|9||Hunter O'Riley||20-1||Flavien Prat
|12||Village King (ARG)||10-1||John Velazquez
|13||Postulation||20-1||Jorge Vargas, Jr.
|14||Hay Dakota||30-1||Brian Hernandez, Jr.
|Claude McGaughey III|
|16||All Go||20-1||Paco Lopez
Adding some European flair to the McKnight is the presence of Group 3 winner Hunting Horn (IRE), who joined stablemate, Magic Wand, who runs in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, on the transatlantic flight from Ireland for legendary trainer Aidan O'Brien.
The nominated winner of the 1 1/2-mile McKnight will be entitled to an automatic berth, with entry fees waived and a travel stipend provided, to the 2019 running of the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano to be run at the Horse Club of Santiago in Chile on March 10.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Soglio enters the McKnight a winner of 5 races from 24 starts and has earnings of $383,769. The 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy is in good form as he eyes his first graded stakes win. In November at Aqueduct, the gelding finished a narrowly beaten second in the Red Smith, which was followed by a second, beaten a head, in the local prep for the McKnight, the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 29.
"Jose Ortiz felt he had a little trouble around the three-eighths pole in that last race at Gulfstream and that cost him the race," Maker said. "He's always been very consistent horse and shows up every time. At Aqueduct, he didn't break well that day and had a wide trip and just missed. Ideally, we would like to see him somewhere mid-pack after they break Saturday."
Jose Ortiz rides from Post 2.
Michael Hui's Zulu Alpha, a 6-year-old son of Street Cry out of a A.P. Indy mare, enters the McKnight following a seventh-place finish in the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream Park Dec. 15. A former claimer, Zulu Alpha has won 6 of 21 starts and has earnings of $239,734.
Maker said Zulu Alpha can be forgiven his effort in the Ft. Lauderdale.
"The winner (Glorious Empire) was loose on the lead and the soft ground my horse didn't seem to care for," Maker said.
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount from Post 4.
Rounding out the Maker trio is Markitoff, who is seeking his first win since taking an allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 1, 2018.
Johnny Bear, a two-time winner of the Northern Dancer (G1) at Woodbine in 2017-18, will start for Colebrook Farms and Bear Stables. While in Florida this winter, the 8-year-old son of English Channel is trained by Mike De Paulo. Johnny Bear's younger full brother, Channel Maker, has been entered to run in the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf.
"Johnny Bear has gotten better as he's gotten older," De Paulo said. "That's why he's been kept going. He's certainly a mile-and-a-half horse. He doesn't like soft turf. Anytime it's soft, he doesn't show up. We're hoping it's going to be firm."
Luis Saez rides Johnny Bear, who drew Post 5.
Canessar, a French-bred 6-year-old son of Kendargent, returns off a long layoff in the McKnight for his connections, trainer Arnaud Delacour and owner Guy Pariente. The gelding hasn't been raced since finishing second, beaten a neck, in the Stars and Stripes (G3) at Arlington Park last July.
Delacour said Canessar, the winner of the 2017 Laurel Turf Cup at the McKnight distance, suffered from a pneumonia-like illness.
"We gave him plenty of time to recover," Delacour said. "He's doing well and we're very happy to get him back. This is a great race to bring him back. He's a horse that tries all the time.
"The best for him is a strong pace where he can be covered up and then come and swing wide. He runs best like that. In his last race at Arlington, he couldn't come wide and had to come up on the rail and he's a little bit shy about coming up on the rail."
Javier Castellano has the mount on Canessar who breaks from Post 7.
Trainer Graham Motion has entered Canadian graded stakes winner Can'thelpbelieving (IRE), an Irish-bred son of Duke of Marmalade who races in the silks of Albert Frassetto. The 8-year-old gelding was most recently second in an allowance optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 9. He was beat that day by stablemate Irish Strait.
"This race comes back a little quick, but he ran well the other day at Tampa and I think he deserves to be in here," Motion said. "The Tampa race was a little short for him. I think he wants to do the mile and a half or mile and a quarter.
"He's doing well for an old man. He's a really cool horse. A barn favorite. He's very kind. He's got this huge body and almost gives the appearance of being overweight, but he's not."
Can'thelpbelieving, who breaks from Post 6, will be ridden by Joe Bravo.
Also entered in the main body of the race are Highland Sky, an earner of more than $600,000; Winter Union, who is seeking his first stakes win; Grade 2 winner Hunter O'Riley; Nessy, last year's McKnight runner-up; Village King, who won the off-the-turf Red Smith at Aqueduct in November; Postulation, a graded winner on the turf in 2017; and Hay Dakota, a recent claim by owner Ron Paolucci. Sentry and All Go are on the also-eligibles.
|South Beach||4yo & up, F&M||7.5 Furlongs (Turf)||$125,000 USD|
|Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint||4yo & up||5 Furlongs (Turf)||$150,000 USD|
|Ladies Turf Sprint||4yo & up, F&M||5 Furlongs (Turf)||$150,000 USD|
|Hurricane Bertie||4yo & up, F&M||7 Furlongs||$150,000 USD|
|La Prevoyante Handicap||4yo & up, F&M||1 1/2 Miles (Turf)||$200,000 USD|
|W.L. McKnight Handicap||4yo & up||1 1/2 Miles (Turf)||$200,000 USD|
|Fred W. Hooper Stakes||4yo & up||1 Mile||$150,000 USD|
|Pegasus World Cup Turf||3yo & up||1 3/16 Mile (Turf)||$7,000,000 USD|
|Pegasus World Cup||3yo & up||1 1/8 Miles||$9,000,000 USD|
|Race Tracks||Time (EST)|