02/03/2011 1:46PM

Clean trip may be all Battle of Hastings needs in Gulfstream Turf Handicap


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – With a little racing luck, Battle of Hastings might already be a Grade 1 winner. With a little racing luck, Battle of Hastings might have won his Gulfstream Park debut in the Grade 3 Fort Lauderdale. And a little racing luck is all trainer Gregory Fox is asking for when he sends Battle of Hastings out as the likely favorite in quest of an elusive Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

Battle of Hastings has made five Grade 1 appearances during a career which has seen him bank more than $1.3 million for owner Mike House. He made a belated rally which fell just short when second in the Hollywood Derby at 3, was a close third behind Proviso the following spring in the Frank Kilroe Handicap, and fourth, beaten slightly more than a length despite being bottled up in traffic in the 2010 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. He also finished fourth in the 2009 Shadwell Turf Mile and 2010 Pacific Classic.

In the Fort Lauderdale, Battle of Hastings was in the midst of what appeared to be a possible winning rally when the opening jockey Julien Leparoux was shooting for near the eighth pole suddenly closed. Battle of Hastings was forced to take up sharply, lost his momentum, then came on with a belated rush once clear through the final sixteenth to finish sixth, just 1 1/2 lengths behind wire-to-wire winner Little Mike.

“He was on the verge of running a pretty convincing race in the Fort Lauderdale,”said Fox, who took over Battle of Hastings’s training just prior to his 2 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 3 River City Handicap in early November. “But that’s part of the problem when you have a closer. You’re just vulnerable that way and if you look back at his record bad things like that have happened to him before.”

Fox said drawing the outside post for the Gulfstream Turf should help Leparoux negotiate a cleaner trip on Saturday. Battle of Hastings broke from post 1 in the Fort Lauderdale.

“Julien should have more confidence in the horse after that last race and from the outside he should be able to get him the best trip possible,” said Fox. “You don’t get too many shots to win a Grade 1 with a small stable like mine. All I ask for Saturday is that we get a clean trip.”

Half of the eight-horse field for the Gulfstream Turf are coming out of the Fort Lauderdale.

Little Mike, who has won five of his last six starts, was transferred from trainer Alan Iwinski to Dale Romans shortly after outlasting Blues Street by a nose to upset the Fort Lauderdale. Little Mike again figures to set the pace while stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time on Saturday.

“He has good cruising speed so the extra distance shouldn’t bother him,” said Romans.

Smart Bid raced well placed and rallied mildly to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind Little Mike in the Fort Lauderdale. It was the third graded stakes placing for Smart Bid.

Get Stormy forced the pace to midstretch before weakening late in the Fort Lauderdale while making his first start since tiring badly in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Get Stormy was a multiple Grade 2 winner in 2010.

Justaroundmidnight is the only filly in the field but did face males in Europe. She rallied from far back to upset the Grade 3 Marshua’s River in her local debut, her final time for 1 1/16 miles just a tick slower than Little Mike covered the distance over the same course 30 minutes apart.

Twilight Meteor figures to stalk Little Mike from the outset coming off a wire-to-wire, neck triumph in Calder’s Grade 3 Tropical Park Handicap in his 2010 finale. The outing was just the second since Twilight Meteor won the Grade 3 Canadian Turf here more than 21 months ago.

Sal the Barber and Teaks North complete the lineup.