Lochte Seeks to Make the Grade Again in $100K Tropical Turf Handicap

December 10, 2019

Vitali Trainee and Unbridled Command Bring Grade 1 Stakes Credentials

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – Lochte figures to be well backed in the betting for Saturday’s $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream Park West, if for no other reason than the 4-year-old gelding is one of two Grade 1 stakes winners in the field

The son of Medaglia d’Oro sprung a 39-1 surprise in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) on Feb. 9 and validated that result with a close-up second in the Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita and a third-place finish in the Makers 46 Mile (G1) at Keeneland in his next two starts. Crossed Sabres Farm’s colorbearer, though, didn’t fare nearly as well in four subsequent races at Monmouth, Belmont and Saratoga during the summer before returning to South Florida.

“From the beginning, I’ve always had my ups and downs with him. He’s had his share of problems, like any athlete. Now, we’ve got him well managed and he’s been on the upswing,” trainer Marcus Vitali said. “We’re going to take it one race and a time and hopefully point him in the right direction.”

Of course, the ultimate goal for Lochte is a title defense in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 7 on a turf course over which he has shown a distinct affinity.

Although his fondness for the Gulfstream turf was reconfirmed with a late-charging victory in the $90,000 The Vid Stakes upon his return to South Florida on Sept. 13, Lochte still has to prove himself over the course at Gulfstream Park West, where he was beaten as the odds-on favorite in an open allowance race on Oct. 18. Lochte raced wide throughout the mile turf race before taking the lead in mid-stretch, only to be caught late by Dreams Cut Short, one of 13 (including four main-track-only horses) entered in Saturday’s Tropical Turf.

“I just think the trip got him beat. I think it was unavoidable. It was just the way the race unfolded. It cost him the race,” Vitali said. “He likes to get covered up and make one big run,”

Orlando Bocachica, Vitali’s go-to rider, has the return mount aboard Lochte, Saturday’s 5-2 morning-line favorite who provided all of his connections with most memorable moments last February.

“It was a very exciting day,” Vitali said. “That was my first Grade 1 and it was the first Grade 1 for Orlando, and I think it was the first Grade 1 for Crossed Sabres. It was a win-win-win.”

Vitali also entered Valid, a Grade 2 stakes winner on dirt, and Midnight Cello, a graded-stakes placed veteran, as main-track-only starters in the event the Tropical Turf is forced off the turf course due to rain.

A look at the past performances of Rapscallion might lead one to think that trainer Graham Motion entered the son of Speightstown for the Tropical Turf in the hopes that the 1 1/8-mile stake is moved to the main track. The 4-year-old new gelding’s last two victories have come in off-the-turf races at Keeneland, including a front-running second-level allowance victory by 4 ½ lengths in his most recent start.

“I wasn’t really thinking of that. I was more thinking that it was a good spot and the timing was good. It was a chance to see if he improved in general, or if it was a freak thing with the move to dirt, but I’ve always thought he was a better turf horse,” Motion said. “He’s coming off a nice win on the dirt at Keeneland, but we always thought he was more of a grass horse. We gelded him before his last start, and I’d like to think that helped him a little bit.”

Rapscallion had started 11 times with two victories to his credit before the decision was made by Motion and Newcal Stable to geld him.

“He probably wasn’t putting everything into it that we’d seen he was capable of in the morning, Motion said. “In the morning, he always breezed like a nice horse.”

Motion has also entered Elkstone Group LLC’s Edge of Reality, who won the 2013 Smarty Jones (G3) on the main track at Parx and captured a stakes for Pennsylvania-bred horses on turf this year.

“He’s just a horse we’ve kind of been able to do a bit of everything with,” Motion said. “I like his grass races. His last race he ran in was very competitive at Keeneland. He wasn’t beaten very far against horses that are pretty comparable to the ones he’ll be running against here.”

While the Motion-trained entrants will make a bid to earn graded-stakes credential in the Tropical Turf, Unbridled Command will attempt to recapture the Grade 1 form he flashed almost two years ago. The 5-year-old son of Master Command capped a five-race winning streak with a victory in the Hollywood Derby (G1) on Nov. 15, 2012. He was far from disgraced when he finished third behind Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom in the 2013 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, but after more than a year layoff, he went winless in four starts on the West Coast. The New York-bred veteran is scheduled to make his first start since finishing ninth in the John Henry Turf Championship (G3) at Santa Anita on Sept.28 and first start for trainer Marty Wolfson.

Melnik Racing Stables’ Karibu Gardens and Copper Water Thoroughbred Company’s Reporting Star, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Sky Classic (G2) on Aug. 16 at Woodbine, have ventured south of the Canadian Border for the Tropical Turf. The Pat Parente-trained Reporting Star came back to finish third in the Northern Dancer (G1) and sixth in the Canadian International (G1) to earn the Tropical Turf highweight of 121 pounds, one more than Lochte. Josie Carroll-trained Karibu Gardens, who will carry 118 pounds, finished eighth in the Northern Dancer last time out.

Mike Maker-trained Dreams Cut Short, who finished a half-length behind Lochte in the The Vid before turning the tables with a 1 ¼-length triumph in the open allowance last time out, has been assigned 119 pounds for the Tropical Turf and has been rated third in the morning line at 5-1..

Lubash, who has been sharp against New York-bred stakes company in recent starts, is scheduled to represent trainer Christophe Clement Saturday at 3-1 in the morning line.

Csaba, a multiple graded-stakes winner, and I’m Stepping It Up join Midnight Cello and Valid as main-track-only entrants.

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