01/11/2013 3:35PM

Gulfstream Park: Hal's Hope gives Soldat one last chance to handle dirt

Tom Keyser
Soldat will race on dirt for the first time since the 2011 Kentucky Derby in Sunday's Hal's Hope.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Soldat will be back on the main track for the first time since finishing 11th behind Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby when he launches his 5-year-old campaign here at Gulfstream Park on Sunday in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope.

Soldat has started just twice since the Derby. He posted an impressive three-length win on the grass here against third-level optional $80,000 claimers last March, and then went to the sidelines again before returning to finish sixth as the 7-5 favorite in an overnight turf stakes at Aqueduct in November.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had the option of leaving Soldat on grass for Saturday’s Grade  3 Fort Lauderdale or giving him one last chance to prove his mettle on dirt in the Hal’s Hope.

“He’s 2 for 3 on the dirt at Gulfstream and he’s been training real well at Palm Meadows so we felt it was a good time to see if the dirt is an issue that is over and done with or if we should try it again this season,” said McLaughlin.

Although Soldat had most of his success on grass at 2, winning the Grade 3 With Anticipation and finishing second in both the Grade 3 Pilgrim and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he really flourished over the main track here during the winter of 2011. Soldat earned a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure winning an entry-level allowance race over a sloppy track in his 3-year-old bow before returning five weeks later to register a two-length triumph in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. But he was unable to sustain that same form in either the Grade 1 Florida Derby or the Kentucky Derby.

“He didn’t really have any excuse in his last start on the grass although it was a long time between races for him and he only got beat five lengths,” said McLaughlin. “He just didn’t look really smooth or comfortable on that turf course at Aqueduct. We’re kind of in no man’s land with him right now. We have to go one way or the other. And the turf racing down here, if we stay turf, is so tough with Animal Kingdom, Point of Entry, and others, we can run great and still be fourth best.”

McLaughlin also said he is looking forward to getting Dance Card back to the races, hopefully before the end of the meet. Dance Card won her last four starts at 3, including the Grade 1 Gazelle on Nov. 24.

“We backed off her a little bit but she’s back training here at Palm Meadows and she’ll come to hand quickly because she’s fit,” said McLaughlin. “We’ll see about the Sabin. If not we’ll wait until we get back to New York.”

The Grade 3 Sabin will be decided at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 17.

McLaughlin also said that Questing, a finalist for an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old filly division, is currently recuperating in Kentucky from surgery to take a chip out of her hind ankle with the plan being to race her again in 2013.

Sisterly Love searches for suitable race

Trainer Mark Casse said he’s looking for a spot to run the newest addition to his stable, the undefeated Sisterly Love, who was purchased privately by Gary Barber shortly after defeating second-level allowance types going a mile here on Dec. 30.

Sisterly Love, who did not begin her career until the fall of her 4-year-old campaign, won her previous two starts at Calder with each of her three career wins coming with her former trainer, Bill White.

“I got a call from Gary asking me to go look at the filly for him. He bought her and now I’m just trying to find a suitable place to run her,” said Casse. “I’m hoping there will be a three-other-than allowance race in the new book or perhaps they’ll put up a little overnight stakes for her. If not, we might have to look at a race out of town like the Tiffany Lass at the Fair Grounds or perhaps take a shot at the Sabin later in the meet.