The Hal's Hope Stakes at Gulfstream Park, to be run this year on Jan. 14, is South Florida's key prep race for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap held later in the Gulfstream meet.

Contested at a flat mile, the $100,000 Hal's Hope Stakes typically acts as the unveiling of many of the region's top older horses following their winter break. The 2012 edition is slated to feature last year's winner, Soaring Empire.

Trained by Cam Gambolati and owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, Soaring Empire followed his Hal's Hope win last year with second-place finishes in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Sprint and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. The son of Empire Maker has been off since winning the Majestic Light Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 31.

“He’s grown up and matured since last winter,” Gambolati said of Soaring Empire following a recent work. “If things go well in the Hal's Hope, we'll try him in the Donn (on Feb. 11).”
Others nominated to the Hal's Hope include Grade 1 winner Jackson Bend; Mucho Macho Man, a fan favorite of last year's Triple Crown returning for his 4-year-old season; and Grade 2 winners Santiva and Adios Charlie.
First run in 1985, the Hal's Hope Stakes was originally known as the Crème Fraiche Handicap in honor of the 1985 Belmont Stakes winner. The name was changed to Hal's Hope in 2003.
Hal's Hope was one of the more popular horses to come out of South Florida in the last 25 years. Born and raised in the Sunshine State, Hal's Hope would win the 2000 Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby on his way to the Kentucky Derby and two years later would win the Crème Fraiche and Gulfstream Park Handicap, which at that time was a Grade 1.
Some of the more notable winner of the Hal's Hope Stakes include Quality Road in 2010 and Louis Quatorze in 1997.
A year prior to winning in the Hal's Hope, Quality Road burst onto the national scene as a 3-year-old with brilliant wins in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby. Considered a heavy favorite in the leadup to that year's Kentucky Derby, Quality Road was forced to miss the entire Triple Crown because of a hoof injury suffered during training.
Louis Quatorze won the 1996 Preakness Stakes prior to winning the Hal's Hope the following season.

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