HAL'S HOPE STAKES | PURSE: $100,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 3 | ONE-MILE
Performing over a fast dirt track for the first time in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park, Lea proved to be more than just a turf and off-track specialist with a resounding win over eight rivals in the one-mile test.
Pressing 3-1 favorite Casaba through splits of :24, :47 and 1:10 4/5, Lea headed that rival approaching the quarter pole, opened up on the field in the stretch and drew off to a 3 1/4-length victory in a time of 1:35 1/5. Ridden by Luis Saez, who garnered his 1,000th career win with this the ride, the 6-1 chance paid $14.80.
Jackson Bend, who closely rated in midpack, rallied for second, a half-length clear of Neck 'n Neck and Uncaptured, who were separated by a neck for third. Completing the order of finish were Purple Egg, Csaba, Goodtimehadbyall, Simmstown, and Strike One. Nikki's Sandcastle was scratched in favor of the Ft. Lauderdale earlier in the program, where he ran third.
Lea was making his first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who took over training duties from Al Stall Jr.
"We've had him about 60 days and initially we were pointing him to either the El Prado Stakes or the Fort Lauderdale, and then we started looking at it and examining his dirt form, which was pretty good," Mott said "He's got two races that are actually quite good. Discussing it with Walker Hancock (of Claiborne Farm), we both decided to give him a shot early in the year on the dirt just to see what direction we want to go the rest of the year.
"I think the way he ran gave us good reason for trying that (running on dirt again). Suppose now, we have to decide how far we want to run him. But he looks like he's one of those unusual horses that handles turf and dirt. Obviously, there are some big races on the dirt. His dam ran a mile and three furlongs, a mile and a half, so he's got a pedigree to run further."
Not making his first start until June of his three-year-old season, Lea won three of his first five starts, including the Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs. He also placed third in the Hawthorne Derby.
His lone victory in five starts last season was in a one-mile allowance at Churchill over a sloppy main track. He subsequently finished second in the Firecracker Handicap and third in the Fourstardave Handicap, both times to Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Lea went unplaced in his final two starts, finishing fourth in the seven-furlong Forego and the nine-furlong Fayette on Polytrack.
Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Lea moves forward with a career mark of 11-5-2-2, $409,618.
A son of First Samurai, Lea was reared by the multiple stakes-placed Galileo mare Greenery, a half-sister to multiple Grade 2 winner Grassy, Group 2 winner Lady in Waiting, Group 3 winner Savannah Bay, and Group 3-placed Desert Destiny.
Others hailing from this female family are Grade 1 winner Stroll, multiple South African Group 2 winner Welwitschia, and Group 3 hero Tremar.