01/12/2012 2:33PM

Gulfstream: Jackson Bend starting his year at a mile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Jackson Bend ended his 2011 campaign with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

HALLANDLAE BEACH, Fla. – Jackson Bend, whose meteoric rise to the top of the sprint division in 2011 ended with a third-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, starts the new year going a mile in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park. The Grade 3 Hal’s Hope serves as a potential stepping-stone to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 11.

Jackson Bend was undefeated as a 2-year-old at Calder for trainer Stanley Gold, after which he was purchase privately by Robert LaPenta and transferred to Nick Zito’s barn. Jackson Bend competed in the opening two legs of the Triple Crown at 3, finishing a hard-luck third behind Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness before his form ultimately tailed off during the second half of the season.

Jackson Bend returned to Gold to open his 2011 campaign and finished second here in the Grade 3 Skip Away at 1 3/16 miles. But it wasn’t until reuniting with Zito last summer in New York and being put on a steady diet of one-turn races that Jackson Bend really became a star.

Jackson Bend’s climb to the top of the division began with a 2 1/2-length victory in Saratoga’s seven-furlong James Marvin overnight stakes. He followed that performance with an even better 3 1/4-length triumph, also at seven furlongs, in the Grade 1 Forego. Jackson Bend proved no match for Uncle Mo running second-best at a mile in the Grade 2 Kelso before concluding the year by rallying belatedly to be third behind Amazombie and Force Freeze in the BC Sprint.

“Obviously he’s best at seven furlongs,” said Zito. “The reason I’m starting at a mile is that I’m not going to run him six furlongs, and it’s impossible to get a race at seven here right now. He’s a good miler. He ran second to Uncle Mo and if Uncle Mo wasn’t in it, he would have won it.”

Jackson Bend drew the inside in a field of nine drawn for the Hal’s Hope but is a proven rail-runner, having captured the Forego after breaking from post 1 and the James Marvin with a rail-skimming trip.

“He looks tremendous. I just hope it’s not too tough a race first time back,” said Zito. “But it’s a good race to come back, in and that’s what we need.”

Jackson Bend figures to receive his sternest test from Soaring Empire, who will attempt to defend the title he won in the 2011 Hal’s Hope with a 1 1/4-length victory over Rule. Soaring Empire has not started since capturing Monmouth Park’s Majestic Light on July 31.

There should be plenty of pace for both Jackson Bend and Soaring Empire to run at, with Will’s Wildcat, Successful Mission, and Decisive Moment in the lineup.

Will’s Wildcat closed out his 3-year-old season finishing eighth after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap. Successful Mission has been idle since earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 108 when he led throughout to capture Monmouth’s Elkwood on May 21. Decisive Moment set a contested pace and held gamely to register a hard-fought neck decision in the Delta Mile in his final start at 3.

Hal's Hope Stakes (G3), Post Time: 4:17 ET Saturday

Purse: $100,000; 1 mile

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Jackson Bend

N. Zito

J. Velazquez

2-1

1

Sky Venture

C. Paul

J. Leyva

20-1

1

Sangaree

K. McLaughlin

R. Maragh

6-1

1

Successful Mission

E. Plesa, Jr.

E. Trujillo

3-1

1

Decisive Moment

J. Arias

S. Madrid

12-1

1

Our Dark Knight

N. Zito

J. Bravo

12-1

1

Soaring Empire

C. Gambolati

J. Leparoux

4-1

1

Cool Blue Red Hot

A. Penna, Jr.

M. Cruz

12-1

1

Will's Wildcat

J. Baker

C. Borel

10-1