02/07/2014 1:59PM

Gulfstream Park: Imagining freshened for season debut in Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Imagining, pictured here winning the Idle Rich in August at Saratoga, will start in Sunday’s Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap for trainer Shug McGaughey.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The field for Sunday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap is a strong one and certainly worthy of the race’s Grade 1 status. But the eight grass specialists who’ll go 1 1/8 miles in front of a large crowd and live television audience on Fox Sports 1 will have a tough act to follow trying to duplicate the 2013 edition of an event that has lured many of the nation’s best grass horses for the past three decades.

The 2013 Gulfstream Park Turf brought together Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom, with the two favorites putting on quite a show before the former eventually prevailed following a stirring stretch duel. Shug McGaughey, who trained Point of Entry, will be represented once again in this year’s Gulfstream Park Turf by Imagining, who came within less than a length of becoming a Grade 1 winner in his own right earlier in his career.

Imagining will face a group that is led by his former stablemate Boisterous, a Grade 1 winner who was purchased by Gary Barber and sent to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn late last season. The field will also include multiple Grade 1-placed Summer Front, Amira’s Prince, Lochte, Tetradrachm, Nikki’s Sandcastle, and Charming Kitten.

“It’s not like last year, it’s not Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom, although I hope [Imagining] will be one day,” McGaughey said with a smile.

[Donn Handicap: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live]

Imagining, 6, has been freshened since rallying to a half-length victory going 1 3/8 miles in the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in his 2013 finale. The win was the third in the last four starts for the Phipps Stable homebred, who was defeated by three-quarters of a length by Ultimate Eagle with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in 2011.

“Obviously this is another step up for Imagining, but I was so impressed with his performance in the Red Smith that this is the race I put on the calendar,” said McGaughey. “We’ll start him out here and see where it takes us.”

Boisterous was purchased by Barber at Keeneland’s November breeding stock sale. He won 11 of 28 starts and banked more than $1.3 million while with McGaughey, with his most important victory coming last summer, a 2 1/4-length win over Twilight Eclipse in Belmont’s Grade 1 Man o’ War. Boisterous is a two-time winner of both the Red Smith Handicap and Grade 3 Knickerbocker. The Red Smith was a Grade 2 event when Boisterous won in 2011 and 2012.

“He’s an old professional who is easy to train, and I think we’ve done enough with him to have him prepared to run a mile and one-eighth off a bit of a layoff,” Pletcher said of Boisterous.

Pletcher will also send out Charming Kitten, who dropped back into optional-claiming company to register a 1 1/2-length victory while wearing blinkers for the first time here last month. Charming Kitten finished third, a half-length behind Java’s War, in the Grade 1 Blue Grass last spring as a prelude to his ninth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby.

“I thought Charming Kitten ran a good race and showed a little improvement with the blinkers, but he’ll have to step it up another notch on Sunday,” said Pletcher.

Christophe Clement seeks his fourth Gulfstream Park Turf victory. He saddles Summer Front, who continues to improve, having won three of his last four starts on grass. Summer Front is just a nose shy of being perfect during that span, having been narrowly defeated by Silentio in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap to close out the 2013 season. Summer Front, a son of War Front, rallied off a slow pace to catch Tetradrachm to register a three-quarter-length win kicking off his current campaign here last month in the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale.

“I was delighted with his last race and he’s been working well,” said Clement. “This will be a tougher race, there’s no easy Grade 1, but he deserves to be a Grade 1 winner and now is the time to try it again.”

Amira’s Prince has won all four of his starts in the U.S., three of those victories coming here last winter, including a 3 3/4-length win in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida. But Amira’s Prince has not raced since capturing the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap at Fair Grounds last March.

“He wasn’t moving well after the race at the Fair Grounds,” said trainer Bill Mott. “We gave him some time off, he’s training well, and hopefully he’ll be able to pick up where he left off.”

Mott will also saddle Tetradrachm in search of his sixth Gulfstream Park Turf win.