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Kaplan hoping for return to Triple Crown trail

  • East Hall (Calder/Coady Photography)

Seven years since Imawildandcrazyguy ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Bill Kaplan is eyeing a return to the Triple Crown trail.

Kaplan, who turned 68 on February 15, has Florida-breds East Hall and We're All Set entered on Saturday's card at Gulfstream Park, each in races with potential Triple Crown implications. East Hall is in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth and We're All Set will take part in a stakes-quality dirt allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

Owned by Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice, East Hall drew the extreme outside in the 13-horse Fountain of Youth, also contested at 1 1/16 miles. He is winless in four starts, never beaten by more than 2 1/2 lengths, since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream on October 19.

This year, he was third by 2 1/4 lengths to General a Rod and Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1, and closed to be third by a neck in the OBS Championship Stakes in Ocala on January 21. General a Rod and Wildcat Red, who went on the take the February 1 Hutcheson, both return in the Fountain of Youth.

"We think he's a very high-caliber horse," Kaplan said. "The race we gave him up at OBS, he was very much the best. He was five wide both turns and was still coming at the end, and only got beat a neck for everything. He's a very nice horse, and we do want to test him against the top three-year-olds.

"I'm very high on East Hall's ability. I think he deserves a shot on the Triple Crown trail."

We're All Set drew post 5 in the 6TH race, where eight of the 10 horses entered are Triple Crown nominated. Among the three-year-olds with Derby aspirations are Tonalist, impressive Gulfstream maiden winner on January 18; Grade 2-placed Wicked Strong, off the board in the January 25 Holy Bull; Mexikoma, sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his last start; and Todd Pletcher-trained maiden winners Constitution and Matterhorn.

"That's what you expect here at Gulfstream in the Championship meet, because these big guys from up north don't bring down their bums," Kaplan said. "They bring down their top three-year-olds, and they're all trying to get into that Triple Crown picture. I knew it wasn't going to be an easy spot, but it's a good spot for a good test on him."

Owned by Ione and Herbert Elkins, We're All Set has made one start this year, finishing third behind Fountain of Youth contender Top Billing in an 8 1/2-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on January 25. The dark bay son of With Distinction was second to Wildcat Red in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint in the fall and third in Calder's In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, also entered in the Fountain of Youth.

"We're All Set is a specimen," Kaplan said. "He's one of the biggest and most attractive horses I've ever had. He's developing nicely and this is another step toward that. He has to improve a little bit but if he does, he'll show very well in this race I think.

"He's got a huge stride on him. He's a very big horse and he's going to get better as he gets older. I'm trying to get him to the point where I feel comfortable trying him in the classic races. Hopefully, he'll move forward with this one. If he wins this one, then you'll probably see him in the Florida Derby. But, he'll have to win this race."

The 62nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, will be run on March 29. Also entered for Kaplan on Saturday is three-year-old filly Holiday Magic in the Grade 2, $200,000 Davona Dale. The bay daughter of Congrats won the Brave Raj Stakes last fall at Calder and was third in her seasonal debut in the OBS Championship Stakes on January 21.

Among those going in the Davona Dale are undefeated Forward Gal heroine Onlyforyou and Grade 2 winner Stopchargingmaria, both trained by Pletcher, as well as Grade 2-placed Penwith and Aurelia's Belle.

"She's coming into it great, and everything looks good on her," Kaplan said. "There's some tough horses in there, but we'll see. She's doing well."

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