Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained O’Connor and Skippylongstocking will be in action in Saturday’s $150,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park, seeking a chance to join stablemate White Abarrio in field for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1).
Fernando Vine Ode’s O’Connor, a Group 1 winner in Chile, and Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking, who finished third in the 2022 Belmont Stakes (G1) are scheduled to face six rivals in the Harlan’s Holiday, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up that will co-headline Saturday’s Gulfstream card with the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2), a 1 1/8-mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds and up that will serve as a prep for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1).
C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio, who captured the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) this year, is scheduled to train up to the Pegasus World Cup, which will highlight the Jan. 28 program at Gulfstream Park, along with the Pegasus World Cup Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3).
O’Conner is Morning Line Favorite
O’Connor, the 8-5 favorite on the morning line, turned in a highly promising U.S. debut at Gulfstream Park Oct. 16, rallying from off the pace in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance to score by six lengths and going away.
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“Going into his debut, he came with a good resume. But not knowing much about Chilean racing as far as the form lines, it was hard to gauge,” said Joseph, the defending Championship Meet titlist. “He trained like a really good horse going into the race and he ran like a good horse.”
O’Connor is a Chilean-bred son of Boboman, the 2006 Hollywood Turf Cup (G1) winner for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. The 5-year-old winner of 10 of 19 career starts won the Gran Premio Latinoamericano (G1) at 1 ¼ miles in April two starts prior to shipping to the U.S. and making an eye-opening debut.
“I was very impressed with his ‘W.’ If anything, he kind of exceeded expectations, the way he won,” Joseph said. “I was a little concerned the distance was going to be too short for him. He’s a horse that wants a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter. To see him make that move early enough, it gave me confidence in him.”
O’Connor’s Chilean form and his U.S. debut were flattered by Super Corinto, an Argentine-bred import from Chile who captured a Dec. 6 optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream in his second U.S. start. The Amador Sanchez-trained Super Corinto defeated O’Connor in his Chile finale in the Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile (G1) following a second-place finish in the Premio Latinoamericano. O’Connor’s victory at Gulfstream was flattered further upon runner-up Octane’s subsequent victory in a Tampa Bay Downs stakes.
“He’s going in there with a good chance. He’s going to step up and face better horses this time, so he needs to come up with a little improvement this time,” Joseph said. “If he repeats his race from last time, he’ll be tough.”
“Skippy” Ran in Two Triple Crown Races
Skippylongstocking ran respectably in two legs of the Triple Crown, finishing third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) after pressing the early pace and racing evenly to finish fifth in the Preakness (G1). The son of Exaggerator went on to capture the West Virginia Derby (G3) before most recently fading to ninth in the Sept. 22 Pennsylvania Derby (G1).
“He’s a horse who always tries hard and is pretty consistent except his last race. Since we sent him two turns, he’s been very consistent around two turns,” Joseph said. “His last race, apart from it being against top competition, was probably a long race at the end of his long campaign. We’ve freshened him after that, and he’s had a steady series of works. I expect him to run well.
“He’s versatile. If the pace is not too fast, he’s capable of being within a few lengths of it and if it’s faster, he’ll sit further back,” Joseph added.
Edgard Zayas has the return mount aboard O’Connor, while Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call on Skippylongstocking, who is 4-1.
Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification (5-1), who has held his own against Grade 1 company in five of his last six starts, returns to Gulfstream Park, where he finished third after pressing the pace in the Florida Derby. The son of Not This Time captured the Mucho Macho Man and the Fountain of Youth (G2) during the 2021-2022 Championship Meet.
Simplification finished a late-closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and sixth in the Preakness. In his most-recent start, the Antonio Sano trainee finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) following early trouble.
Junior Alvarado is scheduled to ride Simplification for the first time Saturday.
Sumaya U. S. Stables’ Pioneer of Medina is among three in the Harlan’s Holiday field that saw Triple Crown action. The son of Pioneerof the Nile was never a factor in the Kentucky Derby after earning his way into the field with a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Pioneerof the Nile is coming off an optional claiming allowance victory at Churchill Downs Nov. 17.
Defending Championship Meet titlist Luis Saez has the return mount.
Cheyenne Stable LLC’s Cooke Creek will seek to regain stakes winning form in the Harlan’s Holiday following three subpar performances. The Jeremiah O’Dwyer-trained son of Uncle Mo had launched his career with back-to-back wins at Delaware Park before in-the-money finishes in the Nashua (G3) and the Jerome.
Jorge Ruiz has the call.
Gary Barber and partners’ South Bend, a veteran graded-stakes performer trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, enters the Harlan’s Holiday on a nine-race losing streak that began with a second-place finish in the 2021 Harlan’s Holiday. The 5-year-old son of Algorithms finished third, beaten by a neck, in a Churchill Downs allowance.
Miracle’s International Trading Inc.’s Strike Hard and Arindel’s Clapton round out the field.