03/03/2016 12:16PM

Valid faces Pletcher quartet in Gulfstream Park Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Valid comes into the Gulfstream Park Handicap at the top of his game, with Beyers of 102, 103, and 103.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Todd Pletcher will send out four horses against Valid in Saturday’s $500,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. But the fact that none of them is named Mshawish gives trainer Marcus Vitali all the confidence in the world that Valid will be able to add another Grade 2 win to his already-impressive résumé.

The one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap highlights a 13-race program Saturday at Gulfstream Park that also includes a pair of graded stakes on turf, the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida and the Grade 3 The Very One. Post time is noon Eastern.

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“They’re ganging up on me,” Vitali said in reference to the Pletcher quartet, which consists of Itsaknockout, Stanford, Blofeld, and Anchor Down. Completing the seven-horse lineup are Grande Shores and Hesinfront.

Vitali has good reason to be glad Mshawish will bypass the Gulfstream Park Handicap in lieu of the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. Valid has chased Mshawish across the wire in his last two starts, finishing second this year in both the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Valid would eclipse the $1 million mark in earnings if he finishes third or better Saturday.

“Todd is fortunate enough to have four horses good enough to run in this race,” said Vitali. “I feel blessed I’ve got one. I’m just happy none of the four are Mshawish. But I wouldn’t trade my one for any of the four. He should be the favorite. He breezed like a monster the other day, and he shows up all the time. That’s the bottom line.”

Valid will share the high weight of 118 pounds in the Gulfstream Park Handicap with Itsaknockout, who tops the Pletcher quartet, coming off a fourth-place finish in the Donn, 1 1/4 lengths behind Valid. Itsaknockout’s four wins over the local surface include the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth here last winter, when first-place finisher Upstart was disqualified for interference.

Stanford is coming off a second in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper here behind stablemate Tommy Macho in his first start in six months. Blofeld returned from a long layoff of his own with a fourth-place finish going six furlongs under allowance conditions here Jan. 27. Anchor Down finished third in a six-furlong allowance dash here in his 2016 debut.

Grande Shores rarely runs a poor race but has chased Valid across the wire in their last three meetings. Grande Shores finished a tiring third behind runner-up Valid in the Hal’s Hope here on Jan. 9 and then ran third in the Fred Hooper.

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Valid, by Medaglia d’Oro

Last 3 Beyers: 103-103-102

◗ Vitali said he’s hoping Valid will have a target to run at early. “Same strategy as always – hope somebody goes and we can sit off him,” he said. “Although if we have to be on the lead going a mile, I don’t mind it.”

Itsaknockout, by Lemon Drop Kid

Last 3 Beyers: 102-98-90

◗ He got hung wide throughout in the Donn yet still earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

Blofeld, by Quality Road

Last 3 Beyers: 93-81-86

◗ Pletcher said he was pleased with the two-time Grade 2 winner’s effort off the layoff. “He got out-quickened a little going six furlongs, but it was his first start in a while, and I expect him to move forward having had a race.”

Stanford, by Malibu Moon

Last 3 Beyers: 97-71-88

◗ “I thought it was a good race off the bench for him,” Pletcher said of Stanford’s race in the Hooper. “Tommy Macho just ran a freaky race to beat him that day.”