A Thread of Blue, who flourished in South Florida last winter to become a multiple stakes winner, returns to a course where he has yet to lose for his seasonal debut in Saturday's $100,000 Tropical Turf Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The 42nd running of the one-mile Tropical Turf for 4-year-olds and up shares the spotlight on an 11-race card with the 18th renewal of the $150,000 Marshua's River (G3) for fillies and mares 4 and older at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. First-race post time is noon.
||Empire of War
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.
||A Thread of Blue
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
A combination of weather and circumstances kept Kiaran McLaughlin-trained A Thread of Blue from running in a pair of targeted races to end 2019, the Nov. 30 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar and Dec. 28 Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream. A 4-year-old son of Hard Spun, he is also on the list of alternate invitees to Gulfstream's $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) Jan. 25.
"Going back to Del Mar, it was raining out there and they moved the dates around. He definitely wants it firm, firm, so we didn't go to the Hollywood Derby. Then we pointed for the Tropical Derby, and again it was raining and it was pretty soft and he got post 14. The combination of both we decided to pass," McLaughlin said. "The Pegasus was there, but this race Saturday suits us a little better so we're going to do that."
A Thread of Blue has not raced since leading most of the way before getting caught late and finishing second by less than a length in the 1 1/8-mile Hill Prince (G2) Oct. 5 at Belmont Park. He banked $80,000 in the effort, pushing him over the $1 million mark in career purse earnings.
Working steadily since mid-November at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, A Thread of Blue will have the services of Luis Saez for the ninth consecutive race. They will break from Post 8 at 122 pounds.
"He's been working right along and doing great, and Luis Saez is available so we're happy to have him," McLaughlin said. "The mile, I think he's better a little bit further than a mile but it's a mile and he loves it down here so it looks like a spot to get going."
A Thread of Blue went three-for-three at Gulfstream during the 2018-19 Championship Meet, winning an optional claiming allowance and the one-mile Dania Beach before his lone graded-stakes score in the 1 1/16-mile Palm Beach (G3). He went on to run second in the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs and be a front-running winner of the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational.
"He really got good down here last winter and liked it firm and won those three in a row," McLaughlin said. "The second at Churchill was a huge race. Probably a highlight of [last] year was him winning the Saratoga Derby. That was a great race for great clients and a million dollars.
"We'll just see how it goes Saturday," he added. "He does not have to be on the lead but he seems to be there more than not. Hopefully we draw well and there's not a lot of speed in the race. We'll be on or near the lead for sure."
Collinsworth Thoroughbred Racing's Maraud is two-for-three lifetime at Gulfstream, finishing third in the 2017 Pulpit Stakes prior to wins in a January 2018 allowance and the Palm Beach (G3) that March. He hasn't won since taking the 2018 American Turf, all for previous trainer Todd Pletcher.
Claimed for $80,000 by trainer Carlos Martin out of an optional claiming allowance at Saratoga last summer, Maraud was third in his lone subsequent start, the one-mile Red Bank (G3) Sept. 1 at Monmouth Park. Martin sent the horse to trainer Joe Orseno for a winter campaign.
"He came to me from New York," Orseno said. "He was a pleasant surprise. He's doin really well and training great, and it looks like a great spot for him. We were thinking about another race, but this one came up and the way he breezed last time we just thought he was ready."
Maraud, a 5-year-old son of Blame, tuned up for the Tropical Turf with a bullet half-mile work in 47.71 seconds Dec. 31 at Gulfstream. Paco Lopez is named to ride from Post 2.
"Carlos sent him to me and told me all about him, and it was good information. We just trained him and got him ready. You can tell he's classy and he's been training well. Now it's time to run so we'll see," Orseno said. "It'll be a good group of horses, so he's going to have to be ready to run."
Trainer Mike Maker entered the pair of Exulting and Empire of War. Three Diamonds Farm's Empire of War, winner of the 2018 Awad Stakes at Aqueduct, will be making his 10th career start and first at Gulfstream, coming off a ninth-place finish in the one-mile Woodchopper Stakes Dec. 28 at Fair Grounds.
Michael Hui, Hooties Racing and WSS Racing's Exulting has earned more than $500,000 from 24 starts, five of them wins, the most recent coming in the Oaklawn Mile last May at Oaklawn Park in his first start since being claimed for $62,500 out of a runner-up effort at Aqueduct.
Winless in five previous grass races, Exulting has tested graded company on four occasions, finishing fifth by 2 ¼ lengths in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Dec. 14 at Gulfstream.
"The last time I thought he ran incredible race, he just wasn't good enough that day. He's been with us for almost a year now. He's got the pedigree and he's just an honest horse," Maker said. "He won for us right away, so you've got to be happy. He's had some troubled trips since but he's a nice little horse.
"He's been in some good company," he added. "He ran in the  Stephen Foster, which was a very tough race. He had a rough trip there, but I don't think a mile and an eighth is really his game. A mile looks like it should have a lively pace in there so hopefully it sets up for him."
Gelfenstein Farm's Gemonteer, winner of the 2018 Not Surprising Stakes going a mile on the grass at Gulfstream, enters the Tropical Turf off consecutive wins at Kentucky Downs in September and Gulfstream last month.
"We think he's earned himself a chance," trainer Jena Antonucci said. "He's been in really great form."
Completing the field are multiple stakes winner Gidu, second in the 2018 Dania Beach (G3) at Gulfstream; Tusk, most recently third in the 1 1/16-mile Claiming Crown Emerald Dec. 7 at Gulfstream; 2018 Tale of the Cat Stakes winner Gunnison, third to Gemonteer Dec. 11; 2018 Woodhaven Stakes winner Sand Dancer, the 124-pound top-weight; and Big Agenda.