Don’t adjust your monitors. There was already a 2016 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes preview this year.
Then again, H. Allen Jerkens was always able to do the impossible. Onion beat Secretariat, All the Way beat Juba…and this year, he gets two editions of the stakes named in his honour. The 2015 and (first) 2016 editions came in January, but this time around it returns in late December instead.
The conditions are the same: two miles over the grass at Gulfstream. The third edition of the race has been better subscribed than any yet. The inaugural running attracted eleven. After two scratches, only seven saw the starter in the second.
Saturday, fourteen will face the two-mile test.
Though its distance stands out, this race has kept one thing in common with many held at Gulfstream this time of year: it has been trainer Todd Pletcher’s playground. Unitarian won the 2015 edition with authority. The next year he sent Charming Kitten — already a two-mile winner in the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup — to victory.
Will Pletcher strike again?
Saturday, December 31: Gulfstream Park
Race 10: H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, three-year-olds and up, two miles on the turf, post time 4:34pm EST
Selections: Snag (14), Montclair (11), Generous Kitten (10)
Longshot: English Illusion (12)
This race does not appear to have a lot of horses who need the lead, but sometimes two is enough. Applicator and Made In Detroit both stand to send. Neither will have it easy, and Made In Detroit can survive things a bit faster in the early going. But, will either get two miles on a contested pace? Unlikely. Revisit if one of these horses scratches, but as it stands, both tend to make the early going and fade.
Besides, what few American two-milers we have tend to be more about stamina and class than they do pace.
Two horses in this field have covered a distance of at least two miles. Tobias has tried it on the flat; Top Striker has tried it over the jumps. Tobias tried the Belmont Gold Cup this year; though Da Big Hoss does not appear here, two miles seems beyond his best. Top Striker is in excellent form — last out, he vanquished likely champion steeplechaser Rawnaq in the Colonial Cup (GI) — but steeplechasers have tended not to do quite as well in these one-off marathon returns to the flat.
With no clear standout, it makes sense to try for a price. Why not try for a price with a trainer who knows full well how to get a horse ready for a two-mile race? Lightly-raced Snag hails from the barn of Todd Pletcher. He gets a class test here, as this will be his first career stakes appearance. But, that maiden victory came going twelve furlongs at Keeneland. He handled his lone N1X appearance poorly, but that came with cut in the ground. Both of his starts with cut in the ground have been subpar. Both of his good races have been longer distances (ten or more furlongs) over firm going, something Snag ought to get here. He goes blinkers off here, a 23% move for Pletcher. And, the Todd Pletcher/Edgard Zayas trainer/jockey combination intrigues. Though Zayas has been firing at just 6% this meet, he has been anomalously strong with Pletcher lately: 9 wins and 17 money finishes in 27 starts over the last two months.
Behind him, there are a few logical horses.
Midwest Thoroughbreds specifically claimed Montclair for marathon-distance stakes races, and he finished fourth behind Da Big Hoss in the American St. Leger (GIII) at Arlington this year. His breeding is as good for stamina as anyone here, with Montjeu on top and stout German stock underneath. That has also borne out on the track, with form going as long as about fifteen furlongs in France. He can also handle the Gulfstream track; he ran there once last year and beat a quality allowance field including Captain Dixie and O’Prado Ole.
Trainer Mike Maker has a pair in here. Taghleeb is the morning-line favourite, and the class of the pair, but the other Maker appeals more on his stamina. Generous Kitten should be well-equipped to handle this two-mile trip. There’s a Charming precedent for Kitten’s Joy babies to stay two miles, and he has stamina underneath to match. Though he faltered against stiffer in the American St. Leger (GIII) earlier this year, he has enough form between nine and twelve furlongs to give him a shot. Most of that form has been in allowance company, though he was a respectable fourth behind Danish Dynaformer in the Singspiel Stakes (GIII – CAN) this summer. Generous Kitten does have some class to prove, but should be long-winded enough for this, and his two solid starts at Gulfstream last winter strengthen his case.
For those looking for a bomber, give English Illusion a look. He come in from Woodbine for trainer Daniel Vella, who has a positive ROI with shippers. Last out, three-year-old English Illusion stretched out to a mile and three quarters in the Valedictory Stakes (GIII – CAN), and rallied to be fourth beaten just a length and a half. That race came on Tapeta, as did his second-place finish three back at a mile and a half. But, English Illusion has turf form as well, including an allowance win at twelve furlongs. The fact that he had gas until the end of the Valedictory bodes well for his ability to get two miles. His breeding does, too. A son of English Channel, he is out of a Woodman mare who did her best at two turns. For a horse with breeding so firmly rooted on this side of the Atlantic, that’s a lot of stamina.