(Grand Sonata, on the rail / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Gulfstream Park Media Team:

Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson’s Axthelm, who debuted at Gulfstream before making his next three starts in Kentucky, has returned for the South Florida’s racetrack’s opening day of the 2022-2023 Championship Meet Monday.

The 3-year-old son of Into Mischief is scheduled to face 11 other 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes that will co-headline a 10-race program with the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Axthelm’s July 17 debut in a maiden special weight race at five furlongs Tapeta didn’t go as trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. had expected.

“He’s shown ability from the beginning. Obviously, he has a good pedigree – an Into Mischief homebred for Ed,” Joseph said. “First time out, we thought he would win. We were a little surprised he didn’t. It was probably a little shorter than he wants to go, but it was a good spot to start him out.”

The five-furlong race on Tapeta certainly set him up perfectly for his return to action at Kentucky Downs six weeks later. The Kentucky-bred colt graduated by a head over Chad Brown-trained favorite Growth Capital while running a mile on turf in a $157,000 maiden race.

“We waited for that spot,” Joseph said.

Axthelm made two more starts at Keeneland, finishing third in both races at a mile on turf. In his most recent start in the Bryan Station (G3), he made a serious challenge for the lead at the top of the stretch before settling for third, beaten by less than a length by victorious Balnikhov. Todd Pletcher-trained runner-up Wit, went on to finish a close third in the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar.

“I thought he ran OK in his first race but I thought he showed a much better performance in that stake when he had a few weeks to acclimatize there,” Joseph said. “He was bottled up for most of the race. He never really got out, but for a horse who was making only his fourth start facing those quality horses, I thought he showed a lot of grit.”

Axthelm has produced a series of four strong breezes at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, since returning from Keeneland.

“We discussed and put our heads together and decided to go straight to the Tropical Park Derby – give him a little freshening and start him back up for this race,” Joseph said. “Everything seems to have gone on target. He’s always been a good work horse. I think he’s coming into the race really well.”

Edgard Zayas, who was aboard Axthelm for his first three starts, has the return mount Monday.

Peter Brant and Joseph Allen LLC’s Fort Washington, who finished seventh, beaten by just 2 ½ lengths by Balnikhov following an extremely slow start, will also return in the Tropical Park Derby. The son of War Front, who captured the Tale of the Cat at Monmouth in June, will be equipped with blinkers for the first time.

“The last two times he didn’t break and he ran really good races. He just gave himself way too much to do,” McGaughey said. “I put blinkers on him and schooled him in the gate at Payson Park. He seems to pop right away from there now. I think, if he breaks good, he’ll be in contention and finish good.”

Fort Washington will be ridden for the first time by Jose Ortiz.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is scheduled to saddle Whisper Hill Farm LLC’s Grand Sonata and St. Elias Stable and Repole Stable’s Steady On for starts in the Tropical Park Derby, for which the Pletcher-trained Native Thunder is second on the also-eligible list.

Grand Sonata, who captured the Dania Beach and the Kitten’s Joy (G3) at Gulfstream last season, most recently finished third in the Gio Ponti at Aqueduct, beaten three-quarters of a length by Churchtown and a neck by Steady On, both of whom he will face again in the Tropical Park Derby.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a five-time Championship Meet titlist, has the call.

Steady On, a late-developing son of Pioneerof the Nile, overcame a hard bump at the start of the 1 1/16-mile Gio Ponti before finishing second. H had won his two previous starts at a mile on turf.

Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return mount.

W.B. Harrigan and Mike Pietrangelo’s Churchtown set a controlled early pace with mild pressure to his outside before holding on to win the Gio Ponti by a half-length under Junior Alvarado, who will be aboard again Monday. Trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, the son of Air Force Blue has been first or second in six of nine career starts.

Silverton Hill LLC’s Red Danger, who captured the Pulpit at Gulfstream last season; Gary Barber, Manfred Conrad and Penny Conrad’s Golden Glider, a gelding that has never run on turf and ran respectably in several Triple Crown preps earlier in the year; Reeve Thoroughbred Racing’s Dakota Gold, a multiple New York-bred stakes winner who finished fourth in the Gio Ponti; and Three Diamonds Farm and Deuce Greathouse’s Stolen Base, won won the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs in May; are among the top contenders in the Tropical Park Derby.

Grand David, Night Jumper and Venezuelan Triumph round out the field. Native Thunder is joined on the also-eligible list by Marwad.