03/11/2010 12:00AM

McLaughlin has two of well-matched 11


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The good news for handicappers is that division leader Quality Road is sitting out Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, which means there won't be a 2-5 shot to deal with at the windows. The bad news for handicappers is that division leader Quality Road is sitting this one out, which makes picking the winner a daunting task.

Without the imposing presence of Quality Road, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap drew an evenly matched field of 11 older horses with only four pounds separating the highweights, Grasshopper and Cool Coal Man, from the lows.

Grasshopper is one of two horses trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will saddle in the one-mile GP Handicap, along with Past the Point, and he for one has seen enough of Quality Road this winter.

"We stepped up with Past the Point and tried Quality Road in the Donn Handicap, and all we accomplished was getting an assist for helping him set a new track record," said McLaughlin.

Grasshopper returned from a lengthy vacation to win a high-priced optional claiming race here on Feb. 3 while making his first start since being transferred to McLaughlin's barn last season. Grasshopper's finest hour came at 3 when he finished second behind Street Sense in the 2007 Travers.

"He's doing well coming out of his last start, and we've been pointing for this race all along," said McLaughlin. "Hopefully he'll improve off his first run. But you never know."

Past the Point set the pace before proving an easy target for Quality Road in the Donn, finishing a distant sixth behind the winner's track-record-setting performance. Past the Point was beaten less than a length after setting a contested pace in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector, a Grade 3, early in the meet.

Cool Coal Man was forwardly placed from the outset before edging away to a two-length optional-claiming win at seven furlongs in his 2010 debut. The victory was the fourth in five trips over the local strip for Cool Coal Man, whose only setback here came in the 2009 GP Handicap when he finished a disappointing fifth as the 2-1 favorite.

This Ones for Phil is also a horse for the course, having won 3 of his 4 local tries, including the Sunshine Millions Sprint by a hard-fought nose over Pashito the Che in one of the most exciting races decided here in many years. This Ones for Phil also wanted no part of Quality Road in the 2009 Fountain of Youth, when he was beaten 10 lengths after setting a torrid pace.

Harlem Rocker will carry the hopes of trainer Todd Pletcher's stable into the Gulfstream Park Handicap in the absence of Quality Road after finishing seven lengths behind his stablemate in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope here on opening day.

Motovato couldn't have had a worse trip when beaten just a length by Munnings in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Sprint Championship on Feb. 13. He is one of two horses trainer Marty Wolfson sends out Saturday, along with Hal's Hope runner-up You and I Forever.

Saturday's card will also include the $75,000 Ocala for Florida-bred fillies and mares. The Wolfson-trained Jessica Is Back figures to be a heavy favorite going a mile against seven rivals, including her uncoupled stablemate Wyatt's Women.