Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Grade 2 winner Largent, unraced since being beaten a neck in last year’s Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), returns to Gulfstream Park to launch his long-awaited comeback in the $100,000 Tropical Turf Stakes (G3) on Jan. 8.
The 44th running of the one-mile Tropical Turf for 4-year-olds and up serves as the headliner on an 11-race program that begins at noon.
Largent, a newly turned 5-year-old son of Into Mischief, owns six wins and four seconds in 10 career starts, with Virginia-bred stakes victories in the Edward P. Evans and Bert Allen prior to a two-length upset of the 1 1/8-mile Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G2) in 2020, the latter at 16-1 odds in his graded debut.
“He’s a really cool horse that we’re thrilled to have coming back with Twin Creeks,” Eclipse managing partner Aron Wellman said. “You don’t see too many records like his, where he’s never been worse than second in any of his lifetime races. Multiple stakes winner. Graded-stakes winner. Second by a neck in last year’s Pegasus Turf. He’s an awesome horse who’s a model of consistency at a very high level, and those are very hard to come by.”
Largent, named for the Seattle Seahawks’ Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent, forged a short lead entering the stretch of the Pegasus Turf last January, only to be passed late by stablemate Colonel Liam. Colonel Liam would go on to win two more graded-stakes, including the May 1 Turf Classic (G1).
Following two subsequent works at Palm Beach Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, Largent went to the sidelines and did not have another timed breeze until mid-November over the all-weather surface at WinStar Farm’s training center. He returned to South Florida in late November and has worked steadily since, including a bullet five-furlong move in 1:02.01 Dec. 31.
“We’ve given him a lot of time since last year’s Pegasus. Twin Creeks had him out at their farm and treated him like a king, then he went over to WinStar to get legged up. They always do a phenomenal job,” Wellman said. “Todd’s been very pleased with him since he came back to Palm Beach Downs.”
The Tropical Turf would be Largent’s first race in 351 days, but comes over a course where he has raced six times with four wins and two seconds. He broke his maiden in debut at Gulfstream in March 2019, won a pair of allowance races during the 2019-2020 Championship Meet as well as the Fort Lauderdale.
“He’s been sensational at Gulfstream since Day 1,” Wellman said. “It’s definitely a very appealing scenario that, if he’s going to come back, to do it here on what has been his most successful sort of home turf, so to speak.”
Wellman said the connections are approaching the Tropical Turf with both optimistic and realistic expectations ahead of the $1 million Pegasus Turf on Jan. 29.
“I’d be lying to you if I said we thought we had him 100 percent cranked up off such a long layoff,” Wellman said. “But, this race is coming up in such a way that the timing is right and the distance is probably right to get him going. While we’re certainly not, by any means, trying to get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s not out of the question that if he were to run very well and emerge from this race well, that in three weeks’ time the Pegasus could come back into play.
“We’re not going to call our shot by any stretch of the imagination,” he added. “The main thing is that this is probably the most logical launching point for him, even though he’s probably not entirely tight for this outing.”
Championship Meet-leading rider Luis Saez has the call on Largent from the rail in a field of seven.
“We felt like we’re cutting it a little close in terms of how cranked up he is, but with this race being three weeks before the Pegasus Turf it could put us in a position to have some options, so we decided to give it a go. He’s been training well like he always does and he’s always shown an affinity for the Gulfstream course. He’s always seemed to do well over it,” Pletcher said. “I think it’s a good starting point. He’s shown he’s pretty versatile and can handle multiple distances.”
Klaravich Stables’ Value Proposition (GB) won three of his first four career starts and has matched that total over his last nine, including victories in the one-mile Red Bank and seven-furlong Oyster Bay last fall. The 5-year-old was second in the 2021 Forbidden Apple (G3) and third in the 2020 Poker (G3) and enters the Tropical Turf having finished fifth in the six-furlong Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship Nov. 27.
Irad Ortiz Jr. is named to ride from Post 4 at co-topweight of 122 pounds.
Another graded winner in the field is Marianne Stribling, Force Five Racing and Two Rivers Racing Stable’s Phat Man, who captured the 2020 Fred W. Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream. The 7-year-old gelding has two seconds in five lifetime tries on grass but was last on the surface in the October 2017 Hawthorne Derby for previous connections.
Calumet Farm homebred Flying Scotsman will be making his second start off a layoff in the Tropical Turf. He ran fifth in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claiming allowance Dec. 19 that was moved off the Gulfstream turf to its Tapeta surface. Promoted winner of the 2019 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds, it was his first race since setting the pace before finishing sixth by 2 ¼ lengths in the Dinner Party (G2) at Pimlico Race Course.
“He’s doing well. His last run was off the turf and on the Tapeta. It was his first run in probably six or seven months so he needed that run,” trainer Jack Sisterson said. “He’s run well second off a layoff at Gulfstream. He won a nice allowance race last year in a quick time, so we expect sort of a performance like that this weekend.”
Flying Scotsman was fifth in last year’s Tropical Turf after being unable to get to the early lead. It was his first race in nearly seven months, and he came back with a front-running optional claiming allowance triumph in mid-February.
“That’s typically how we train. We don’t win first time out or off a layoff. We like to let them improve with races. He did that last year and we expect him to do the same this weekend,” Sisterson said. “He definitely has the talent to win a race like this, it’s just whether the race will set up for him. I think his best races are when he’s on the front end.”