01/13/2013 7:17PM

Gulfstream Park: Saez helps Csaba get job done in Hal's Hope

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Leslie Martin
Csaba, under Luis Saez, holds off Pool Play by a neck to win the Grade 3 Hal's Hope.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.-  Csaba showed he belongs at the next level, as did his jockey Luis Saez, after the pair combined for a hard-fought neck victory over the fast-closing Pool Play in Sunday’s $150,000 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park.

Csaba brought a three-race winning streak into the one-mile Hal’s Hope that included a victory in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap at Calder, but was clearly facing his toughest test since beginning that skein with a 14-length triumph in the Tropical Park Derby on Oct. 13. And it appeared Csaba, the 9-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, was in some trouble after seemingly struggling to keep up with the leaders when put to a drive by Saez on the final turn.

Associate set a lively pace, posting splits of  22.64 seconds and  44.75 for the opening quarter and half-mile while pressed by good Morning Diva and Pants On Fire. Csaba raced about four lengths behind the leaders to the stretch but did not appear to be making any real headway until being angled to the inside near the eighth pole by Saez.  Csaba then surged late from along the rail to wear down Pants On Fire and Soldat while also holding off a belated rally from Pool Play.

“My first impression was I thought he was kind of struggling a little bit down the backside.  I thought he’d lay closer, going easier but the fractions were pretty solid,” said Phil Gleaves, who trains Csaba for the partnership of Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff. “I have to give all the credit to Luis Saez. He’s a brilliant rider. He’s going to do great in New York. He’s one of the best riders in the country.”

Pool Play, who was supplemented into the race at a cost of $5,000, rallied on the extreme outside to finish second, a neck in front of Pants On Fire, who gained command in early stretch then succumbed grudgingly at the end. Soldat also looked dangerous after fanning four wide into the stretch but could not sustain the bid, finishing another head farther back at the wire.

Csaba completed a mile in 1:35.69 and paid $5.60.

“He just tries so hard and just brings his game every race,” said Gleaves. “He’s a nice horse and I’m just blessed to have him. We always thought highly of him. We wanted to go on the Derby trail last year. That’s why we ran him in the Fountain of Youth but that didn’t pan out. But he’s showing it now.”

Gleaves said the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9 would be the likely spot for Csaba’s next start.