Wicked Strong, Honor Code Set for 2015 Debuts in Saturdayâ€™s Grade 2 Handicap
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ Multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Private Zone tops a six-horse field entered Wednesday in Saturdayâ€™s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Owned by Good Friends Stable, LLC, Private Zone dazzled his rivals with a front-running five-length victory in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct in his last start on Nov. 29. The son of Macho Uno was timed in 1:34.39 for the mile, the distance of the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
In addition to making his 2015 debut, the 6-year-old gelding is set to make his first start for Gulfstream Park West-based trainer Jorge Navarro.
â€œItâ€™s a chance of a lifetime,â€ Navarro said. â€œI appreciate the chance the owners have given me.â€
Prior to his Cigar victory, Private Zone finished a late-closing third in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita, as well as capturing the Vosburgh (G1) at Belmont Park for the second straight year. In 25 starts, the Ontario-bred gelding has amassed earnings in excess of $1.5 million from seven wins, seven seconds and two thirds.
Despite his stellar record, Private Zone demonstrated a brief period of bad behavior upon arriving in South Florida.
â€œHe came to my barn tough to train, but all of that has gone away,â€ Navarro said. â€œHeâ€™s training really good.â€
Private Zone has strung together four consecutive bullet workouts at Gulfstream Park West in preparation for his 2015 debut.
â€œHeâ€™s a beautiful horse. The way he trains, he does everything so easily,â€ Navarro said. â€œThe times heâ€™s putting up are serious, and weâ€™re not asking him for anything.â€
Private Zone is slated to be the starting highweight, assigned to carry 122 pounds, including regular rider Martin Pedroza. The classy gelding is scheduled to carry between two and nine pounds more than his five opponents.
Centennial Farmsâ€™ Wicked Strong has been assigned to carry two pounds fewer than Private Zone. The Grade 1 stakes-winning Wicked Strong is set to make his first start since clipping heels and falling in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont on Sept. 27.
James Jerkens-trained Wicked Strong will be reunited with jockey Rajiv Maragh, who sustained a broken arm that put him on the shelf for four months in the Jockey Club Gold Cup spill.
â€œIâ€™m so excited to get back on him, because since the comeback to Palm Meadows, he looks like a much more mature horse. He gained a lot of weight; heâ€™s filled out, looks stronger. Heâ€™s developing and it seems like heâ€™s moving forward off the great form he had last year,â€ said Maragh, who captured his first race back off his injury-forced hiatus aboard Sky Blazer at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 16. â€œI think the best is yet to come.â€
Prior to the season-ending mishap, Wicked Strong had established himself as an elite 3-year-old while winning the Wood Memorial (G1) and Peter Pan (G2) and being beaten by a nose in the Travers (G1) by stablemate V.E. Day.
â€œGoing down the backstretch of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I felt like he was going to run the best race of his life. He was really in-tuned and moving with a lot of power,â€ Maragh said. â€œUnfortunately, he didnâ€™t get to show his best that day. He deserves a shot to get to show what heâ€™s really made of and for everyone to see him run and get to see the best of Wicked Strong, because heâ€™s a special horse. I hope everyone gets to see the best of him.â€
Laneâ€™s End Racing and Dell Ridge Farmâ€™s Honor Code is set to make his first start since Capturing a six-furlong optional claiming allowance at Aqueduct on Nov. 22 with a breathtaking stretch run. The 4-year-old has been training with trainer Shug McGaugheyâ€™s division at Payson Park in preparation for the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
â€œItâ€™s gone excellent. I couldnâ€™t have asked for it to go better. He got a little freshening-up time after he ran in November. Weâ€™ve trained him pretty hard since then and heâ€™s taken it well,â€ McGaughey said. â€œHeâ€™s ready to go.â€
Honor Code, who had stamped himself as a 2014 Triple Crown prospect during a juvenile season that concluded with a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (G2), was taken out of training last March after sustaining an injury in his right hind leg. He came off the sidelines with an impressive performance at six furlongs.
â€œI think as we go along, I think heâ€™ll be better around two turns,â€ said McGaughey, whose colt will carry 116 pounds, including Javier Castellano. â€œHeâ€™ll probably be in the race a little more around two turns.â€
While Private Zone, Wicked Strong and Honor Code are scheduled to come off layoffs in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Crossed Sabres Farmâ€™s Valid enters the historic handicap in winning form. The son of Medaglia dâ€™Oro captured the Fred Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream on Feb. 7, winning his third victory in his last four starts at a mile.
Paco Lopez has the return mount aboard the Marcus Vitali-trained gelding, a Grade 2 stakes winner who has been assigned 118 pounds.
H. Jack Hendricks and Roger Justiceâ€™s East Hall, a multiple-graded stakes winner who finished an even fifth in the Donn Handicap (G1) last time out, was entered in the Gulfstream Park Handicap by trainer Bill Kaplan. The 4-year-old son of Graeme Hall captured the Indiana Derby (G2) and Ohio Derby last year. Luis Saez has been name to ride East Hall.
Richard Ravinâ€™s Loverbil, who captured the Claiming Crown Express before winning a recent optional claiming allowance in hand at Gulfstream Park, rounds out the Gulfstream Park Handicap field. Navarro also trains the 6-year-old New Jersey-bred gelding, who will be ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr.
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