12/26/2012 5:25PM

Gulfstream Park: Fact has big shot to continue trainer's hot streak in Friday feature

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Marcus Vitali is off to a hot start during the opening month of the Gulfstream meeting. He’s hoping that hot hand will carry over to Friday’s $54,500 main event with Fact, who’ll step back up into entry-level allowance company to face eight rivals going a mile on the turf.

Vitali is in a battle with Wesley Ward for the top spot in the local trainer standings. Fact has already helped the cause when he dead-heated for first with River Lemon in a high-priced conditioned claiming race on the grass less than two weeks ago. The win was the second in the last three starts for Fact, who also captured a maiden special weight race over the Calder turf in November. In between those victories, Fact finished seventh against first-level allowance competition here Dec. 7.

“He’s a nice turf horse, but he’s stepping up on Friday,” Vitali said of Fact, a son of A.P. Indy.

“There’s a couple of horses in there that look to me to be tough to beat. But I like my horse. He’s training well, he likes the course, and he’s won two out of three, so we owe him another chance at this level.”

Fact will break from the rail under jockey David Cohen, who guided him to his previous victory. The horse to beat may be in the next stall, the lightly raced but well-bred Wharton, who’ll begin from post 2 while making his first start for trainer Chad Brown.

Wharton, a son of War Front out of the El Prado mare El Prada, is making his turf debut. He has not started since winning his maiden with trainer Steve Asmussen going six furlongs over the Churchill Downs main track in October 2011. Wharton has turned in a series of sharp workouts at Belmont Park and since his arrival at Palm Meadows several weeks ago.

Gaelico will likely go postward the favorite off a series of good efforts on the grass dating back to a wire-to-wire $40,000 claiming win at Churchill in June. In his most recent try, also at Churchill, Gaelico drew clear at midstretch only to falter and finish a tiring third going a mile under entry-level allowance conditions.

Haunted, like Wharton, will be making his first start on grass. The lightly raced son of Ghostzapper already owns a win at the meet, having rallied from just off the pace to win a lower-level conditioned claiming dash going 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track while making his return from a 9 1/2-month vacation.

Marford Missile brings a four-race winning streak into his U.S. debut, but fashioned that skein against lower-level claiming types in England. Marford Missile will have the opportunity to race on Lasix for the first time Friday.

Rapacious exits his best performance yet, an easy maiden special weight win over the Churchill turf Oct. 31, while Van Citra also looms a major factor off a pair of improved showings both on turf and dirt at Calder.