03/04/2014 2:24PM

Gulfstream Park Handicap: Falling Sky might be horse to beat

Barbara D. Livingston
Falling Sky and jockey Luis Saez win the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship on Feb. 8.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Most of the attention Saturday in the Grade 2, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap will be focused on Palace Malice and Itsmyluckyday, two of the major players on last year’s Triple Crown trail. Both will launch their 4-year-old campaigns in the race.

But the horse to beat could be another member of last year’s Triple Crown crop, Falling Sky, who already has turned in a couple of big efforts over the track this winter, including a 5 1/2-length triumph in the seven-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship on Feb. 8.

Falling Sky finished 19th and last in the 2013 Kentucky Derby but seems to have found his niche this winter in one-turn races at distances ranging from seven furlongs to a mile. Trained by George Weaver, Falling Sky finished a game second to the odds-on Revolutionary in his 2014 debut going a mile in January before turning back to seven-eighths to dominate the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint, earning a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

“We had some bad luck when I first ran him this fall at Laurel, but I was confident he’d run well when we brought him back down here since he’d already shown a liking for this track last winter,” Weaver said. “I thought he ran a very good race against Revolutionary, and then everything really came together in the Sprint.”

Weaver said he considered several options for Falling Sky after the Sprint, including the San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita or awaiting the Grade 1 Carter in New York, before opting for the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap.

“If I had my choice, I’d say seven furlongs is his optimum distance,” Weaver said. “But I really didn’t want to ship him all the way to California, and he’s such a feeling-good type of horse, I don’t think it would have been in his best interests to wait seven or eight weeks for the Carter.

[Clocker Reports: Get Mike Welsch’s clocker reports from Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows]

“His speed is really an asset over this track, and I think he’s a stronger, fitter, and tighter horse than he was when he ran a mile last time against Revolutionary. So, I expect he’ll be able to handle stretching back to that distance just fine on Saturday.”

Falling Sky will carry 118 pounds in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, one fewer than starting highweight Palace Malice and two more than Itsmyluckyday. Other likely starters include Brujo de Olleros (117), Sr. Quisqueyano (116), Narvaez (115), and Reveron (114).