01/10/2013 2:18PM

Gulfstream Park: Scratch of Dominus throws Fort Lauderdale wide open


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The complexion of Saturday’s $150,000 Ft. Lauderdale changed dramatically the morning of the race with the news that Dominus, the 123-pound highweight and likely favorite, had been scratched from the Grade 2 turf event.

Dominus’s defection along with the scratch of main-track-only entrant Pants On Fire left the 1 1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale wide open, with a case to be made for at least a half-dozen of the 10 remaining entrants in the event. The top contenders now include the red hot Nikki’s Sandcastle, Grade 2 winner Big Blue Kitten, Hollinger and Sky Blazer.

Nikki’s Sandcastle is already a two-time winner at the meet, having rallied to hard-fought victories over the local course in both the Claiming Crown Emerald and El Prado Stakes, which he won from post 13.

“We know each of the races will get a little tougher here as we go along, and we’ll be running back in three weeks,” trainer David Kassen said. “But he’s been training great, and I think he’ll be able to handle it.”

Big Blue Kitten posted a game allowance victory here last month in his first start since finishing 10th in the Group 1 Prince of Wales at Ascot in June. Big Blue Kitten won the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga in August 2011 and finished third last winter in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

“I thought his effort winning the allowance race last month off the layoff was a good one, and we’re taking a bit of a shot moving him back up into this type of company,” said Chad Brown, who trains Big Blue Kitten for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. “But if he runs his best race, he fits with this kind of field.”

Hollinger remains winless since fall 2011 but finished second, two lengths in front of Big Blue Kitten, last winter in the Gulfstream Turf Handicap; third, beaten a neck, in Woodbine’s Grade 2 King Edward; and closed out the year running second in the Grade 2 Tropical Turf Handicap.