12/31/2015 12:00PM

Sheikh of Sheikhs primed for Hutcheson

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Emily Shields
Sheikh of Sheikhs makes his first start since winning the Juvenile Dirt Sprint at Keeneland on Oct. 31.

Back-to-back Grade 3 sprints will kick off a lucrative stakes program for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, when the Hutcheson and Old Hat stakes are the first of five stakes on an 11-race card at the south Florida track.

The Hutcheson for 3-year-olds and the Old Hat for 3-year-old fillies, both $100,000 races at six furlongs, are slotted as the third and fourth races on a card that starts at 12:05 p.m. Eastern. Also to be run Saturday at Gulfstream are the Ginger Brew, Dania Beach, and Mucho Macho Man, all $100,000 stakes.

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The Hutcheson, which drew seven, appears to be stronger than the Old Hat. Sheikh of Sheikhs will be favored. He is well drawn in the outside post and makes his first start since capturing the Juvenile Dirt Sprint on the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup card at Keeneland.

“He’s come to hand real well since he got a real brief freshening after that nice win,” said Wesley Ward, who trains Sheikh of Sheikhs for Abdullah Saeed Almaddah. “We’re hoping to have a good year with him.”

Noholdingback Bear, the runner-up in the Juvenile Dirt Sprint, also is among a competitive field in the 67th running of the Hutcheson, along with Full Salute, a two-time stakes winner, and Awesome Banner, whose maiden romp in June in his lone start had the locals buzzing. Awesome Banner is owned by Jacks or Better Farm and trained by Stanley Gold.

Full Salute is trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., who told Gulfstream publicity this week that he recently was given a clean bill of health at the Cleveland Clinic after surviving a scary bout with cancer that required the removal of a kidney.

“That took a load off all of our shoulders,” said Plesa.

Perhaps the favorite in the six-filly Old Hat will be Lucy N Ethel, who is making her stakes debut after dominating her two previous races, both at Parx Racing near Philadelphia. Trained by Ramon Preciado, Lucy N Ethel earned an eye-catching 89 Beyer Speed Figure in a Dec. 8 allowance triumph, tops in the Old Hat lineup.

Surely the chief threat to Lucy N Ethel is Ballet Diva, who has won three ungraded stakes. Aside from the 82 she earned in her second start, the Jacks or Better homebred filly has yet to register as much as a 70 on the Beyer scale.

The Hutcheson is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., with the Old Hat going 30 minutes later.

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KEY CONTENDERS

Hutcheson Stakes (race 3)

Sheikh of Sheikhs (Last 3 Beyers: 84-67-79)

◗ His lone defeat in three career attempts came in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity around two turns, and like so many Ward trainees, he seems very well suited to this shorter distance.

Noholdingback Bear (Beyers: 83-82)

◗ There’s very little to knock in regard to this Canadian-based colt, who has trained very well at Gulfstream since being defeated by a half-length by Sheikh of Sheikhs at Keeneland in only his second start.

Full Salute (Last 3 Beyers: 74-65-81)

◗ The winner of the Sept. 26 Hall of Fame at Parx and the Nov. 28 Buffalo Man at Gulfstream Park West, he has developed a steady kick that should prove useful in a field with speed aplenty.

Old Hat Stakes (race 4)

Lucy N Ethel (Beyers: 89-62)

◗ Pennsylvania-bred filly earned that eye-popping last-out Beyer when drubbing open company at Parx Racing by 13 lengths.

Ballet Diva (Last 3 Beyers: 65-47-54)

◗ Florida-bred filly will have Jose Caraballo back aboard when she breaks from the rail.

◗ She has won the Cassidy, Susan’s Girl, and House Party stakes from her six races.