03/21/2012 11:10AM

Gulfstream: Philippe begins season in earnest on Friday

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Philippe was on the fringes against stakes company at 3 but his trainer, James Baker, is hoping 2012 will be a breakout season for the homebred, beginning with Friday’s second-level optional $62,500 claiming feature at Gulfstream Park.

As a 3-year-old, Philippe finished a close second in a pair of overnight stakes at Turfway Park and Oaklawn Park early last season but saved his best for last when he checked home second, a head in front of his more accomplished stablemate Will’s Wildcat, in Turfway’s Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint.

Baker gave Philippe some time off after the Kentucky Cup Sprint, finally getting him back in action over the turf here earlier this month. Philippe finished an even sixth in his return, a race his trainer thinks should set him up perfectly for Friday’s assignment at six furlongs on the main track.

“Our original plan was to get a dirt race under his belt following the layoff and then take him to the Commonwealth,” said Baker, referring to the Grade 2 sprint to be run over the Polytrack next month at Keeneland. “But that didn’t work out because the race we were looking for didn’t fill. I wound up just putting him on the turf to get him started because he was ready and needed to run.”

Baker said he’s expecting Philippe to be better as a 4-year-old than he was at 3.

“He seems to be a stronger horse now than he was last year,” said Baker, who trains Philippe for Courtlandt Farms. “And this race should set up well for him with his stalking style because there seems to be a good amount of speed in the field.”

Six of the eight members of the field for the $66,100 main event are stabled at Calder, including the red-hot Abdel’s Ghost, who is seeking his third straight win.

Abdel’s Ghost has used his abundant speed to outsprint $10,000 starter allowance competition in each of his last two starts for trainer Gerald Procino, earning a near career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure for his two-length victory here Feb. 23.

Abdel’s Ghost figures to be tested early by old friend Bull Dozer, who has been idle since shipping to Fair Grounds to finish third against starter allowance foes on Dec. 3. Bull Dozer easily defeated Abdel’s Ghost when the pair last met in August at Calder although he has yet to win a race in three tries over the local strip.

Dual Exhautz, another who calls Calder home on a year-round basis, exits a much improved showing when dropped in against mid-level conditioned claimers on Feb. 9 by trainer Bill White. He also figures to have a say in the early running as could Tell Tale Friend.

Shrewd One, a New York-bred, missed by a neck against similar company going seven furlongs on Jan. 7 in his only start here this winter.