03/02/2012 3:19PM

Gulfstream Park: Soldat makes first start since Derby on Sunday, returns to turf

Barbara D. Livingston
Soldat will make his first start since the Kentucky Derby on Sunday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The $70,000 Ladies Turf Sprint is the feature race here Sunday, but it will be the return of Soldat that highlights the card.

Soldat will be making his first start since finishing 11th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. He’ll also be moving back to the turf to kick off his 4-year-old campaign, going 1 1/16 miles under high-priced optional claiming conditions in Sunday’s sixth race.

Soldat was one of the stars of the 2011 meet and among the major players on the Kentucky Derby trail last winter. Soldat first gained national attention winning an allowance race in the slop by nearly 11 lengths to start his 3-year-old campaign, before enhancing his reputation even further with a two-length victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. But the son of War Front could not sustain his form, finishing a disappointing fifth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and midpack after pressing the early pace in the Derby.

“After the Derby, we just decided to stop and freshen him up, although we didn’t mean to stop on him for so long,” said Kiaran McLaughlin who trains Soldat for owners Harvey Clark and W. Craig Robertson III. “His feet were kind of stinging and bugging him, but we were hoping to bring him back later in the year, only it was one little thing after another that kept him away.”

The decision to bring Soldat back on the turf was an easy one for McLaughlin. Soldat closed his juvenile campaign with three consecutive starts on grass, winning his maiden in the Grade 3 With Anticipation before finishing second in the Grade 3 Pilgrim and second behind Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

“He’s bigger, stronger, and has really matured a lot with the time off,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll bring him back on the turf and hope for the best. He seemed to like the turf a lot as a 2-year-old, it looks like his preferred surface. Maybe he wanted grass all the time, but we got kind of excited with his big wet track races here last winter when we shouldn’t have. But they’re only 3 once, and the owners had fun going to the Derby.”

Soldat’s competition on Sunday includes stakes winners Live in Joy and Flamin Hot.