04/02/2011 12:56PM

Westchester, Metropolitan on the horizon for Soaring Empire

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. – When it comes to Soaring Empire, trainer Cam Gambolati is in a New York state of mind.

After running three times at Gulfstream Park – including a victory in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope in January – Soaring Empire is now targeting the Grade 3, $100,000 Westchester Stakes at Belmont on April 30 and then the Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap, also at Belmont, on May 30.

“The Westchester is a perfect race to set him up for the Met Mile. I think getting a race over the Belmont track helps you too,’’ said Gambolati. “Those big, sweeping turns and long stretch were made for him.’’

On Saturday, Soaring Empire worked a strong five furlongs in 59.60 seconds over the Gulfstream Park main track, breezing in company with stablemate Dueling Alex. The work began at the half-mile pole and continued a furlong past the wire.

Under jockey Jose Lezcano, Soaring Empire began his breeze about 2 1/2 lengths behind Dueling Alex and went an opening quarter in 23.28 seconds. He came up outside of Dueling Alex turning for home and finished about three-quarters of a length in front at the wire with Lezcano barely encouraging his mount. He continued on for an extra eighth in 12.60 seconds.

“If he breezes by himself he’ll go 52, that’s what he is,’’ Gambolati said. “Jose’s leaving to go to Keeneland, so I figured I need one good work and then I’ll go two easy works. But he always has to go in company, if not he’ll be lazy.’’

After winning the Hal’s Hope, Soaring Empire twice finished behind Tackleberry, losing the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship at seven furlongs by two lengths and the Gulfstream Park Handicap at a mile by a neck.

“Tackleberry was made for Gulfstream, not that he’s not a good horse, I’m not knocking him,’’ Gambolati said.

Gambolati said Soaring Empire would continue to work at Gulfstream before shipping north the week of the Westchester.