An unusual blend of horses is set to contest Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, and in my opinion, demanding a bit of a price in the wagering could be a wise idea.
Three of the nine entrants in this one-mile test are running for the first time since late spring 2018, including the stakes-winning pair of #5 Quip and #9 Prince Lucky, who will be making their first starts as four-year-olds. I’m not inclined to back them as they face older horses for the first time, and likewise, I’m tempted to lean against #1 Tale of Silence, who hasn’t run since winning the Westchester Handicap (gr. III) in May at Belmont Park, a track for which he seems to hold a special affinity.
The 2-1 morning line favorite here is #3 Breaking Lucky, and deservedly so. This aging veteran has found new life running in one-turn miles at Gulfstream this winter, winning an allowance optional claiming race by 8 1/4 lengths before finishing a game second over a sloppy, sealed track in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (gr. III). Still, Breaking Lucky has won just four times in 26 starts and just once since August 2016, so he hasn’t historically been a horse that you want to trust at a short price.
That’s why I’m going to give #7 Copper Town another chance. Trained by Todd Pletcher, this lightly-raced son of Speightstown has twice gone to the sidelines for lengthy layoffs, but when he’s been sound, he’s shown flashes of brilliance, including a couple of big wins in quality allowance races.
Unfortunately, little has gone right for Copper Town as of late. A slow start in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) caused him to get squeezed back out of his customary position near the front of the pack and he never fired afterward, finishing last of eight. Then, in the Fred W. Hooper, Copper Town was anxious in the gate and reared up sharply, banging his head on the gate. That couldn’t have helped his chances, and presumably the sloppy, sealed track didn’t help either as he faded steadily after pressing the pace to finish seventh of eight.
It’s hard to endorse Copper Town off his last two runs, but Pletcher is showing confidence by running him right back in another graded stakes race. True, Copper Town has not been the best gate horse, but if he breaks alertly on Saturday, the return to a (presumably) dry track could set up Copper Town for a much-improved effort. At 6-1 on the morning line, I think he’s worth a gamble.
My main play will be a win bet on Copper Town, but I’ll also box him in the exacta with Breaking Lucky and #8 Sir Anthony, an up-and-coming four-year-old who is 20-1 despite having won four straight races:
$18 to win on #7 Copper Town
$2 exacta: 3,7,8 with 3,7,8 ($12)