12/14/2012 2:36PM

Gulfstream Park: Delegation facing some tough characters in Harlan's Holiday


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – One would think, coming off a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and dropping into an ungraded race, that Delegation would be a mortal lock in Sunday’s $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday. But even trainer Mark Casse admits the 1 1/16-mile fixture for older horses will be no walk in the park for a horse he believes can be a force to reckon with in the handicap division in 2013.

A field of nine was entered for the Harlan’s Holiday, and along with Delegation it includes Duke of Mischief, who is closing in on $2 million in career earnings; his uncoupled stablemate, Cash Rules, currently in the midst of a four-race win streak; Csaba and Ducduc, who dead-heated for first in Calder’s Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap; the three-time stakes winner I’m Steppin’ It Up; the multiple graded stakes-placed Scatman; and Decaf Again.

“It’s quite a race for $100,000,” was Casse’s initial reaction when asked to assess the Harlan’s Holiday.

Casse also reacted to the fact there is quite a bit of early speed in the field, which could be an issue, considering Delegation led from gate to wire winning a pair of two-turn races at Woodbine earlier this fall.

“All the speed would concern me a lot more if we were drawn inside, but from our post I think we should be okay,” said Casse, who trains Delegation for owners Gary and Cecil Barber. “He’s rated before. He even rated a little bit in the Breeders’ Cup, although if I had it to do all over again I probably would have let him go instead, since he wound up getting stuck down on the inside and actually bounced off the rail turning for home.”

Casse said he is definitely looking for Delegation to try to sit off the early leaders in the Harlan’s Holiday.

“That will likely be the strategy, but I’ve got Johnny Velazquez on him and I’m not going to have to give him any instructions or say much more to him than ‘good luck’ in the paddock,” said Casse.

A good effort by Delegation, who was beaten just four lengths by Tapizar making his first start over dirt in the Breeders’ Cup, could punch his ticket to either the Strub or Donn Handicap in his 2013 debut.

“I actually think the further he runs, the better he is, and he’s trained really well on dirt, so that’s certainly not an issue,” said Casse. “His work at Churchill Downs was the best breeze of all the horses we ran in the Breeders’ Cup.”

Duke of Mischief, who has earned $1.9 million in his career, will make his first start since finishing second in defense of his title in the $1 million Charles Town Classic in April. Duke of Mischief has trained well for his return and is a proven late-runner who would benefit from an honest pace scenario on Sunday.

Cash Rules has won four consecutive stakes, all at Calder, for trainer David Fawkes and will actually share high weight of 123 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Harlan’s Holiday with Ducduc. Cash Rules has also lost his regular rider, Luis Saez, who opted to keep his seat aboard Csaba.

Scatman, second in the Grade 3 Southwest and third in the Grade 2 Rebel with Michael Lauer last winter at Oaklawn Park, has won both starts since being transferred to trainer Bill Mott’s barn earlier this season. He figures to have a say in the early pace along with I’m Steppin’ It Up, who led from gate to wire to win an overnight stakes going a mile at Delaware Park on Aug. 18 but has not started since finishing fourth in the Presque Isle Downs Mile on Sept. 7.