Four weeks after finishing a disappointing fourth in the Hutcheson Stakes, 3-year-old sprinter Merit Man is expected to return to action in Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Won last year by eventual champion sprinter Trinniberg, the Swale is a seven- furlong stakes that can serve as a prep for the Florida Derby on March 30.
Trained by Bob Hess Jr., Merit Man began 2013 with a win in the Spectacular Bid Stakes at six-furlongs, but never challenged in the Spectacular Bid on Feb. 2.
"It was a disappointing race, but not terrible," said Hess. "I probably over- instructed the jockey (Pasco Lopez) trying to see if he could be rated. I think he's best if you just let him run his race. We'll enter in the Swale and take a look, see who is in it and what post we draw. If we don't like it we can run him in the OBS race the next week."
Owned by Bruce Chandler and partners, the colt established himself as a top runner when he won his first start on Sept. 2 at Del Mar and followed with a victory in the Tim Conway Stakes on Oct. 6 at Santa Anita.
He was second as the 1-2 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2., losing by a nose to longshot Hightail.
Merit Man has already banked $299,500 with three wins in five starts.
Also probable for the Swale is Clearly Now, trained by Brian Lynch. The colt, owned by Up Hill Stable, captured his first two starts at Woodbine and was third to Avie's Quality in the Display Stakes at the Toronto track on Dec. 1.
Clearly Now opened this year with a third as a 42-1 longshot behind Itsmyluckyday in the Holy Bull Stakes.
"He ran all right in the Holy Bull," said Lynch. "I just don't think he's ready for the horses he has to face down here right now going two turns, but the race in the Holy Bull is ideal to set him up to come back at seven- eighths. I still think he'll stretch out with maturity when we get back to Toronto."
In four starts the colt has two wins and two thirds for $124,598.