03/26/2013 4:14PM

Gulfstream Park: Hierro auditions for Churchill Downs Handicap in Thursday allowance feature

Tom Keyser
Hierro (6), shown winning a second-level allowance in February, could get another stakes show if he runs well in Thursday's feature at Gulfstream.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The strongest barn on the East Coast, if not the country, became that much stronger last summer when trainer Todd Pletcher added Stonestreet Stables to his client list.

Juvenile fillies Kauai Katie and Dreaming of Julia, along with the turf stakes winner Dominus topped the performers, but the group also included a promising middle-distance runner in Hierro, who seeks his second straight win in Thursday’s $65,350 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

Winner of the Grade 3 Derby Trial last spring when trained by Steve Asmussen, Hierro went to the sidelines following a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park.

Sent to Pletcher in south Florida this winter, Hierro won a second-level allowance race going seven furlongs Feb. 18.

“He was pretty straight forward that day,” Pletcher said. “He’s had a good, steady series of works since the race; looking forward to giving him another try.”

Noting his success at Churchill Downs – Hierro is 2 for 2 over that surface – Pletcher is hoping to use this as a stepping-stone to the $400,000 Churchill Downs Handicap, a seven-furlong race run on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 4.

Thursday, Hierro will break from post 3 under John Velazquez.

Among his chief rivals will be Perfect Afleet, a lightly raced 7-year-old who made his dirt debut 19 days ago winning a second-level allowance race going a mile. He had run previously on turf and synthetic.

Roger Attfield, who trains Perfect Afleet, said the horse had shown ability training on the dirt at Payson Park this winter, which is why he decided to give it a try.

“He had trained just as well on the dirt at Payson as he has on the turf,” Attfield said. “I wasn’t really concerned about it being on the dirt. I didn’t know he’d particularly move up on it. Maybe he did."

Attfield said Perfect Afleet has had “a number of issues in his life” but seems to have come out of his last race in good order, which is why he is wheeling him back on relatively short rest.

This field includes 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer, who finished a distant third behind Pants On Fire in a race similar to this in the slop Feb. 15. He is in this field under the optional-claiming tag of $80,000.

There could be a pretty fast pace in this race with the likes of Good Morning Diva and Tell Tale Friend in the field. Good Morning Diva is coming out of fifth-place finishes in a pair of graded stakes while Tell Tale Friend is attempting this condition for the third time at the meet, second on dirt.

Pass the Dice, shipping in from Fair Grounds for trainer Wayne Catalano, completes the field. This race will go as the sixth on a 10-race card.