HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Aktabantay made the journey from England to Santa Anita in 2014 to run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), only to be scratched due to an injury sustained in a stall mishap.
The British-bred colt didn’t get to compete in the $1 million race for 2-year-olds, but his connections came away from the experience with an observation that eventually led them to send him back to the U.S. for a 2016 campaign.
“He’d come out to the Breeders’ Cup as a 2-year-old and kicked his stall and got a tiny hairline fracture in a hind foot and had to be scratched,” said Thomas Morley, who is scheduled to saddle Aktabantay for a start in Saturday’s $100,000 Miami Mile (G3) at Gulfstream Park. “But they’d seen enough of him training during the week leading up to the race that they saw that he relished the American style of training on the track and the mental stimulations that they get. It’s a different scene.”
Former trainer Hugo Palmer, Morley’s close friend and Newcastle University classmate, decided that Aktabantay could use a change of scenery following a disappointing 2015 campaign in Europe.
“His form tailed off and Hugo thought maybe he’d gone a little stale last year. His first run of the year was a very, very solid fourth in the St. James, a stakes at Royal Ascot that is a Grade 1. He was beaten five lengths by Gleneagles, who was one of the top milers in Europe during the last five years,” Morley said.
Owned by Turkish industrialist Ibrahim Araci, Aktabantay won a Group 3 stakes and finished second in a Group 2 stakes before concluding his juvenile campaign with a sixth-place finish in a Group 1 stakes at Longchamp, beaten under four lengths by victorious Gleneagles. After finishing fourth behind Gleneagles at Ascot, the son of Oasis Dream was never close in three subsequent starts before being sent to Morley.
Aktabantay, a $625,000 yearling purchase, is set to seek his first stateside triumph and graded-stakes success in the Miami Mile in his third start for Morley. He finished a late-closing fourth in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 20 before being squeezed back and finishing seventh in the Appleton (G3) on the Florida Derby undercard April 2.
“He’s been a little unlucky in both starts here so far. He ran into a very, very slow pace in Tampa. They crawled early on and he was a long way back. He actually finished with a really nice kick,” Morley said. “I expect him move forward for this race, but the key is that he really needs fast ground. We brought him to Gulfstream Florida Derby Day and, of course, we had two monsoons coming in that day.”
Eddie Castro has been named to ride Aktabantay, who will face seven rivals in the mile turf event.
“We’ve been searching for fast ground and a fast pace,” Morley said. “The first time, we didn’t get a fast pace. The next time, we didn’t get the fast turf. This time around we’re hoping for the stars to align. If we get what we want – which is a nice pace and a nice fast surface to run on – we feel like this horse will be competitive in graded stakes.”
Mr. and Mrs. Bert Firestone’s Middleburg is set to make his 2016 debut in the Miami Mile, following up a successful 5-year-old campaign that included a victory in the Cliff Hanger (G3) at Monmouth and three other graded-stakes placings.
The ultra-consistent son of Lemon Drop Kid broke a string of 15 consecutive 1-2-3 finishes with a sixth-place finish in the Knickerbocker (G3) at Belmont in his 2015 finale.
Jockey Joe Bravo has been named to ride the Virginia-bred Middleburg.
Mi Amore Stable LLC’s Hothersal, who finished a length behind Middleburg in the Knickerbocker, captured an off-the-turf optional claiming allowance in his 2016 debut before finishing a wide fourth in the Silks Run Stakes over Gulfstream’s turf course March 10. Hothersal, who finished second in the Oceanport (G3) at Monmouth last season, is slated to be ridden Tyler Gaffalione.
Conquest Tsunami, a multiple stakes-winner who finished fourth in a Tampa allowance in his 2016 debut; Amigo, a graded stakes-placed 5-year-old who finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Turf; With Exultation, a winner of an overnight stakes at Gulfstream before finishing sixth in the Appleton (G3); Quiet Force, a Grade 3 winner last year who is coming off back-to-back claiming wins; and Smokem Kitten, an optional claiming allowance victor last time out; round out the field.
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