01/08/2015 2:09PM

Lea returns after lengthy layoff in Hal's Hope

Barbara D. Livingston
Lea will make his first start in 11 months when he starts in Saturday’s Hal’s Hope.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – One year ago, Lea used a convincing victory in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope as a stepping-stone to an even better, record-setting performance four weeks later in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

Trainer Bill Mott is hoping history can repeat itself, beginning Saturday, when he sends Lea out to defend his title in the $150,000 Hal’s Hope. The one-mile fixture drew a compact but talented group of only six starters, including the remarkably consistent Valid, Grade 3 winner Golden Lad, Grade 1-placed Prayer for Relief, the improving Confrontation, and Slim Shadey.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 Lea. Trainer Bill Mott is 10-1-1-3 with a $0.36 ROI over the past five years in graded stakes routes with a layoff of 180 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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The Hal’s Hope is one of three graded stakes on Saturday’s card, along with the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale and Grade 3 Marshua’s River.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

Unlike last year, when Lea entered the Hal’s Hope off an 11-week layoff, he returns Saturday from an 11-month absence. Lea, 6, has been idle since registering a 1 1/2-length decision over Will Take Charge, while establishing a 1 1/8-mile track record, in the 2014 Donn. Lea contracted a fever about a month after that performance and was slow to recover, prompting Mott to give the Grade 1 winner the remainder of the year off.


“When a horse has been off as long as he has, there’s always a bit of a mystery whether they’ll come back as good as they were before,” said Mott.

Lea will break from post No. 1 out of the mile chute with Joel Rosario aboard once again.

Valid is coming off a huge performance in the Harlan’s Holiday when finishing second, beaten a half-length by the odds-on Liam’s Map, after a gut-wrenching stretch battle. Valid earned a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure in defeat. The loss snapped a modest two-race win streak for Valid, who earlier last season captured the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup.

“He seemed to get good and stay good, which is a rarity in this business,” said trainer Marcus Vitali.

:: GULFSTREAM PARK: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Golden Lad, like Lea, lost the better part of his 2014 campaign and will be making his first start since finishing a distant eighth in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 16. Golden Lad registered his most important victory when drawing off to a 6 3/4-length triumph last winter in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 2 Golden Lad. Trainer Todd Pletcher is 12-5-3-0 with a $2.68 ROI over the past five years in graded stakes routes with a layoff of 180 days or more. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Prayer for Relief was winless in 10 starts in 2014, although he did finish third, beaten just two lengths by Itsmyluckyday, in the Grade 1 Woodward, and he was third in the Grade 2 Suburban and fourth in the Grade 1 Whitney.

Confrontation was freshened after rallying to finish second behind Salutos Amigos in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap on Oct. 25. The Hal’s Hope will be his first start beyond seven furlongs.


Lea (Last 3 Beyers: 114-101-89)

◗ He’s not only perfect in two starts at Gulfstream Park, but he’s also won both career outings at a mile on the main track.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: Over the past five years, Mott owns an 18 percent win rate, with a return on investment of $1.67, with horses returning from layoffs of six months or longer.

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Valid (Last 3 Beyers: 111-101-98)

◗ He is particularly efficient at Gulfstream Park, having never finished worse than second in five starts over the local oval, with his two losses coming by a combined margin of less than three-quarters of a length.

◗ He dropped a tough neck decision to Golden Lad when the two met for the only time here last winter.

Golden Lad (Last 3 Beyers: 71-98-102)

◗ He is yet another in this lineup who has shown an affinity for Gulfstream’s main track, having won three of his four starts over the surface, with his lone loss a second-place finish in his local debut.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: Trainer Todd Pletcher is a master at bringing one back off this type of layoff, his horses winning 26 percent of the time over the past five years when returning from absences of more than six months.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 Slim Shadey. Trainer David Jacobson is 10-5-1-1 with a $3.56 ROI over the past two years with last-out winners in dirt routes in the second start following a layoff. Click for more details. Dan Illman