01/08/2011 7:51PM

Soaring Empire turns the tables on Rule in Hal's Hope

Adam Coglianese
Soaring Empire, winning the Grade 3 Hal's Hope, will be pointed to the Westchester and the Metropolitan Handicap, both at Belmont Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.- What a difference eight months make.

The first time Soaring Empire met Rule, he finished more than a dozen lengths behind him in the 2010 Florida Derby. On Saturday, the vastly improved Soaring Empire turned the tables when holding off a late bid from Rule to register a 1 1/4-length victory in Gulfstream Park’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope. Morning Line finished third as the 3-5 favorite.

Soaring Empire, a son of Empire Maker owned by Rick Pitino’s Ol Memorial Stable and Clint Glasscock, showed steady improvement during the second half of his 3-year-old season, which ended with a victory in Monmouth Park’s Rutgers Stakes and a good effort in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.
Soaring Empire was 13-1 when he faced Rule in the Florida Derby but went off the 2-1 second choice in the Hal’s Hope and tripped out perfectly under jockey Jose Lezcano. Soaring Empire, racing closer to the lead than normal, stalked pacesetter Morning Line while in hand for nearly six furlongs, overtook Morning Line approaching the stretch, then after edging clear withstood Rule while angled farther off the rail near midstretch.

Rule, who had not started since finishing a game third as the 2-1 favorite in the Florida Derby, was shuffled back along the inside nearing the far turn of the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope. Once he eased outside and into the clear, Rule began to cut into the lead but ultimately proved no match for the winner while finishing a half-length in front of Morning Line.

Soaring Empire completed the mile in 1:35.99 and paid $6.

“He’s always been a talented horse, just quirky,” said trainer Cam Gambolati, referring to Soaring Empire’s previous gate problems. “Down the lane, Jose said he was wanting to wait on horses. He does that.”

Gambolati said Soaring Empire would likely make his next start in the seven- furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship on Feb. 12.

“Seven-eighths to a mile is his best distance,” said Gambolati.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee