02/05/2015 10:28AM

Lochte faces tough task in defense of Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap title

Barbara D. Livingston
Lochte will start on Saturday in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, a race he won last year by 2 3/4 lengths at 39-1.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Competing against horses representing some of the most powerful stables in America, the odds are stacked against Lochte.

But then, Lochte was 39-1 last year when pulling away to a 2 3/4-length triumph in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. A familiar theme of David facing Goliath will be in play once again Saturday when Lochte returns in the 33rd running of the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, the first Grade 1 race of the year in North America for older turf horses.

Two Saturdays ago, Lochte grinded out a narrow victory in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes across the Florida peninsula.

“I ran him over there just for a prep for this race,” said Marcus Vitali, who trains the 5-year-old Lochte for the Crossed Sabres Farm of Carolyn Vogel. “He came out of it phenomenal. I gave him a few days off after he ran, and when he came back off the race, his exercise girl told me he’s hair, teeth, and eyeballs. We’re going to try to defend our title.”

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It won’t be easy. Imagining, running in a Grade 1 race for the seventh straight time for Shug McGaughey, and Mshawish, in peak form for Todd Pletcher, are the likely favorites in a field of nine older horses in a 1 1/8-mile race that directly precedes the Grade 1 Donn Handicap as the 12th of 13 Saturday races.

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Three horses in the field – War Correspondent, Slumber, and Golden Rifle – were made eligible to this race by a $5,000 supplementary fee.


Imagining (Last 3 Beyers: 98-102-102)

◗ This 7-year-old Phipps Stable homebred was a consistent player in the major turf events in New York throughout 2014, winning the Man o’ War and finishing a close second in the Sword Dancer. With a series of Payson Park works under him, he will make his first start since finishing seventh after forcing the pace in the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Joel Rosario will be aboard from post 3.

◗ McGaughey: “We gave him a little freshener, and he’s been doing really, really well.”

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 3 Imagining. Trainer Shug McGaughey is 27-9-6-3 with a $3.12 ROI over the past five years in turf route graded stakes following a layoff of between 61 and 180 days. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Mshawish (Last 3 Beyers: 100-97-97)

◗ His two races over the Gulfstream grass have been terrific, and it would be no surprise if he were favored here with Javier Castellano riding from post 1, an ideal spot.

◗ Pletcher: “He needs to be covered up. We’ve known that all along, but sometimes it’s easier to do than others. He’s starting to fulfill the promise that we thought he had. He’s a very talented horse.”

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 Mshawish. Trainer Todd Pletcher is 50-1-2-8 with a $0.13 ROI over the past five years in Grade 1 turf stakes. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Lochte (Last 3 Beyers: 95-93-93)

◗ Lochte (post 8, Paco Lopez) often has validated his quality since his huge upset in this race last year, especially if you dismiss a couple of poor efforts at Monmouth Park. His record in the last year includes a second in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile, a third behind Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile, two stakes wins, and earnings of more than $300,000.

Manchurian High (Last 3 Beyers: 100-94-95)

◗ The Cinderella story of the field, this 7-year-old was bought by 29-year-old owner-trainer Lilli Kurtinecz from her former boss about a year ago and has absolutely flourished, capped by a rousing victory in the Sunshine Millions Turf in his latest start. He breaks from post 5 with Luis Saez up.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 Grand Tito. Trainer Gustavo Delgado is 13-3-1-1 with a $2.83 ROI over the past year in turf routes in the second start following a layoff. Click for more details. Dan Illman