The 4-year-old son of Declaration of War demonstrated a distinct fondness for the Gulfstream racing surface while winning back-to-back optional claiming allowances earlier in the 2020-2021 championship meeting. Todd Pletcher sent him to Tampa Bay Downs last out, where he didn’t flash his natural early speed while racing evenly to finish third in the March 6 Challenger Stakes (G3).
“He seems to like the track here. He’s 2-for-2 (at Gulfstream),” Pletcher said. “He didn’t seem to really fire at Tampa after brushing the gate leaving there. It took him out of his game a little bit.”
The Ghostzapper, a 1 1/8-mile race for older horses, will be among six graded stakes on a 14-race program that will feature 10 stakes, headlined by the $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1).
War Stopper has employed front-running tactics in all three of his career victories.
“We’ll try to get him into the race early on and hopefully he’ll improve,” Pletcher said.
In the Challenger, War Stopper saved ground in third early as Last Judgment grabbed a lead that he never relinquished. The Pletcher trainee attempted to make an inside rally but was unable to mount a serious challenge.
Irad Ortiz Jr., who was aboard War Stopper for his two wins at Gulfstream, retains the mount.
War Stopper will get a second chance against Last Judgment Saturday. The Michael Maker trainee is certainly the one to beat in the seven-horse Ghostzapper off his commanding 2 1/4-length triumph in the Challenger. The 5-year-old gelding was rebounding from an eighth-place finish after pressing the pace in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Jan. 23 at Gulfstream.
Last Judgment wins the Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs
The Florida-bred son of Congrats was claimed by Michael Dubb, Steve Hornstock, Bethlehem Stables, and Nice Guys Stables for $62,500 out of an Oct. 25 optional claiming allowance victory at Belmont Park. Two starts later, he captured the Sunshine Classic Stakes at Gulfstream.
Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for the Sunshine Classic score, returns to the saddle Saturday.
Owner/trainer Steve Budhoo’s Eye of a Jedi will seek his first graded victory in the Ghostzapper after being graded stakes-placed twice during the championship meet. The 6-year-old gelding, who won back-to-back overnight stakes at Gulfstream during the summer, came off a five-month layoff to finish second behind Tax in the Dec. 12 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (G3). The son of Eye of the Leopard came back to lose a photo finish while finishing second by a neck behind Performer in the Jan. 23 Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3).
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano is scheduled to ride Eye of a Jedi, who was most recently fourth in the WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes (G2), for the first time Saturday.
Basin Makes Sir Shackleton Return
Multiple grade 1 winner Basin is scheduled to return from a seven-month hiatus in Saturday’s $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream.
“He seems to be in good form and looks great,” Pletcher said. “First start off a little bit of a layoff, but I like the way he’s training.”
Basin captured the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga by 6 1/2 lengths to cap his juvenile season in 2019. Last year, he finished third in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park and two starts later finished second behind Charlatan in the Arkansas Derby (G1), subsequently placed first via the disqualification of the first-place finisher.
“He always shows up, and he’s versatile,” Pletcher said. “I think seven furlongs is an ideal distance for him to come back.”
Jose Ortiz has the return call aboard the 4-year-old colt.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and William Branch’s Frosted Grace enters the Sir Shackleton off a second-place finish behind multiple graded-stakes winner Mischevious Alex in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3). The Kathy Ritvo-trained 5-year-old son of Mark Valeski has finished first or second in his last five starts. Edwin Gonzalez has the call.