Apriority, who capped his breakout 2011 campaign with a photo-finish victory in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector, aims to regain his title in Saturday's $100,000 renewal at Gulfstream Park. Prominent among his seven rivals are Star Harbour, Travelin Man, Fort Loudon, Singanothersong and Black Diamond Cat.
A homebred campaigned by Donald R. Dizney, Apriority finished runner-up in three major stakes in 2011. The David Fawkes charge missed by only a head in the Sunshine Millions Sprint to Amazombie, who would go on to earn a divisional Eclipse Award that year. After being run down late by Morning Line in the Carter Handicap, Apriority came up a nose short of Aikenite in the Churchill Downs Stakes. He finally scored an overdue first stakes win in the Mr. Prospector on the last day of the year, but failed to build on that effort in 2012.
Although Apriority switched to Hall of Famer Bob Baffert on the West Coast in 2013, the change of scenery didn't spark a significant turnaround. His best result from three starts was a third in the Potrero Grande last April. Rejoining Fawkes for the second half of the season, the six-year-old took three more outings to find himself, but he ultimately did so in eye-catching fashion last time. Apriority snapped his losing streak with a five-length romp in a November 24 allowance at this track and six-furlong trip, and the veteran tries to stay on a roll on Saturday.
Star Harbour comes off his first stakes victory in the December 8 Sunshine State Stakes going seven furlongs at Gulfstream, defeating such notables as Jackson Bend and Bahamian Squall (Apriority's three-quarter brother). That was a much happier result than his previous Gulfstream appearance, a troubled fifth as the favorite in the January 19 Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint. Later dropped down to the $35,000 claiming level at Saratoga, he promptly crushed the field by 12 lengths in a front-running tour de force and was haltered. For his new connections, Star Harbour stepped up to the October 6 Duck Dance at Belmont and finished a solid third to Caixa Eletronica. The aforementioned Sunshine State marked his first try for trainer Bobby Dibona.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Travelin Man has historically saved his best for Gulfstream Park. The hero of the 2011 Swale at this venue, the E. Paul Robsham homebred has also captured the past two editions of the Sir Shackleton. Travelin Man returned from a five-month freshening with a rallying third to Apriority in the local allowance prep, where he raced farther back than usual. The son of Trippi promises to move forward off his tightener, especially with new rider Javier Castellano aboard.
Fort Loudon, who swept Calder's Florida Stallion Stakes as a juvenile in 2011, has developed into a useful sprinter. The Jacks or Better Farm homebred won three straight stakes in the summer of 2012, capped by the Carry Back on Summit of Speed Day. Transferred to Hall of Famer Nick Zito, he placed in such events as the King's Bishop, Ack Ack and Florida Sunshine Millions Classic before scoring in the February 9 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship over Swagger Jack and Bahamian Squall. Now back with his original trainer Stan Gold, Fort Loudon could be rounding into form in his third start of a busy December.
Sophomore Singanothersong, best of the rest behind the talented Clearly Now in the March 2 Swale, exits a 3 3/4-length allowance conquest at this track and trip November 17. Black Diamond Cat ranks as the 122-pound highweight thanks to his trio of stakes tallies this year -- the June 8 Ponche at Calder and the August 3 Housebuster and September 14 Montbrook over this surface, all by daylight. But the veteran must rebound from a troubled seventh in the December 14 Kenny Noe Jr. at his Calder base.
Upgrade, a turf/synthetic performer with back class, was claimed for $40,000 out of a win at Keeneland in October. Making his first career dirt attempt at Churchill for new trainer Michael Tomlinson, the son of Saint Liam was a close second at the $80,000 level, and takes a class hike here. Rounding out the field is the ambitiously-spotted three-year-old Trinni Heart.
One race earlier on the card, Nikki's Sandcastle looks to repeat in the $100,000 El Pradoover a mile on turf. The David Kassen gelding most recently rolled in the October 26 Fayette on the Keeneland Polytrack, improving on his runner-up effort in that race a year ago. Unlike last year, when he annexed the Claiming Crown Emerald in between, Nikki's Sandcastle enters his title defense fresh. He is part of an overflow field of 16, including the main-track-only Majestic Express and the also-eligible Utley.
Salto, who was third in the 2012 El Prado, hopes to turn the tables. The Pletcher trainee has raced only twice in the interim. Sidelined after his fourth to Point of Entry, Animal Kingdom and Unbridled Command in the February 9 Gulfstream Park Turf, Salto resurfaced to take an October 13 allowance on this course.
Lea, winner of last year's Commonwealth Turf, is best remembered for his second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the June 29 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill. Subsequently third to the same towering rival in the Fourstardave at the Spa, he was fourth on the dirt in the Forego and fifth to Nikki's Sandcastle in the Fayette in his final outing for Al Stall Jr. The Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred has since joined Hall of Famer Bill Mott, only to draw post 14 in his debut for the barn.
Iowa Derby victor Looking Cool successfully transferred his game to turf in a Churchill allowance November 8, defeating next-out River City upsetter Potomac River. Grade 2 veteran Guys Reward makes his second start back from a year-long layoff, while Philly Ace was last seen landing the 2012 Tropical Turf for Christophe Clement. Others to note in this competitive affair are last year's Canadian champion turf male Riding the River, who switches to Seth Benzel in hopes of recovering his old form; multiple stakes winner Coalport, representing the ubiquitous Ken and Sarah Ramsey, in his first appearance for trainer Mike Maker; and Nearctic runner-up Mr. Online.