(Trainer Todd Pletcher / Photo by Gene McLean)
From the Gulfstream Park Media Team:
The Todd-Pletcher-trained 4-year-old seized control right from the start of the 1 1/16 mile turf stakes for 4-year-olds and up and didn’t give any other horse a chance while covering the distance in a swift 1:38.66, just .55 off Inchcape’s 2015 record of 1:38.10. The son of War Front set fractions of 23.71 and 47 seconds for the first half mile and 1:32.63 for the mile under Luis Saez on his way to the final clocking.
“Especially off a 47 half, that was really motoring late,” Pletcher said. “He got to a good spot, settled nicely and relaxed. It really seems like he’s getting better and better.”
War of Will, Gary Barber’s 2019 Preakness Stakes (G1), was entered in the Sunshine Forever but was officially scratched Saturday morning, leaving one less pace-forward rival for Halladay to contend with.
Halladay, the 6-5 favorite who was coming off an impressive front-running optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream April 4, bobbled briefly at the start but quickly recovered to outrun El Tormenta to the lead heading into the first turn. He continued on to show the way into the far turn, withstand pressure from Aquaphobia on the turn into the stretch, and continue on to a commanding victory.
“I knew there was another speed so we just tried to break clean and see. If he was right there, we’d take it and if not we can track somebody. But, he broke perfect and he was right there, so we took it,” Saez said. “He was pretty relaxed. Around the first turn he was going very, very nice and relaxed. He came to the half-mile [pole] and when he felt the pressure, I just let him roll and he took off. He won pretty easy.”
Aquaphobia finished second under Irad Ortiz Jr., 1 ¼ lengths ahead of the Pletcher-trained Social Paranoia, who closed steadily in his first start since capturing the March 28 Appleton (G3) at Gulfstream.
“Social Paranoia, I thought, ran really well. He was running on at the end, but any time they go 1:32-and-change, 1:38, they’re flying,” Pletcher said.
Halladay, who won the Tropical Park Derby in December, remained undefeated in three starts over the Gulfstream Park turf course with a dominating performance in a race contested by several graded-stakes winners.
“You could kind of see it leading up to this race. He was really in good form and training a little more relaxed in a great rhythm,” Pletcher said. “He was a happy horse.”