Eight of the best handicap horses in training, including grade 1 winners Captain Steve, Albert the Great and Sir Bear, clash Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the first major event of the year for older runners, the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at a mile and an eighth.The 43rd running of the Donn, which honors three generations of Gulfstream's founding family, will be offered as the 11th event on a special 12-race card. First post Saturday will be 1 p.m., with the Donn set to go off at 5:25 p.m. The Donn will be televised on ESPN2 as part of a broadcast that includes the Strub Stakes and San Vicente Stakes from 6:30-7:00 p.m. (ET).
Mike Pegram's Captain Steve, the 120-pound topweight who has been made the 8-5 morning line choice, drew Post 3 for the Donn. Trainer Bob Baffert has given the mount to Jerry Bailey, who is fresh from winning his fourth Eclipse Award as America's outstanding jockey.
Tracy Farmer's Albert the Great, the 2-1 Donn second choice starting from the rail, is trained by Nick Zito, who took last year's running of the Donn 'Cap with Stephen Got Even, and will be ridden by Pat Day, who was one of the finalists for the Eclipse Award as top jockey. Albert the Great is second highweight at 119.
Going into the race, Captain Steve and Albert the Great are rated the second and third choices, behind only Horse of the Year Tiznow, in the future book for the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
Barbara Smollin's Sir Bear drew the outside Post 8 for his fourth straight try in the Donn. Trainer Ralph Ziadie named Eibar Coa to ride and the 8-year-old Sir Bear is the 6-1 third choice in the morning line carrying 116 pounds.
The others entered are Gatsas Thoroughbreds' Gander, 115, John Velazquez; Flying Zee Stable's Tempest Fugit, 111, Edgar Prado; Jim Tilton Jr.'s Noble Ruler, 111, Robbie Davis; William Clifton Jr.'s Pleasant Breeze, 116, Pat Day, and De Marco and Disano's North East Bound, 116, Jose Velez Jr.
Captain Steve started 2000 as one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby (G1), but failed to fulfill his 2-year-old promise the first half of his 3-year-old season, his best showings being thirds in the Santa Catalina (G2), Louisiana Derby (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1).
In an attempt to rebuild the colt's confidence, Baffert sent him to Prairie Meadows in July, where Captain Steve was the great white shark in a goldfish pond. The son of Fly So Free was hardly threatened as he won the Iowa Derby.
That race did just what Baffert hoped it would do, and Captain Steve followed with a victory in the Swaps Stakes (G1) at Hollywood Park, a second in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth and a victory in the Kentucky Cup Classic (G2) at Turfway Park.
In his final two starts of the year, Captain Steve was second in the Goodwood (G2) and third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, both times behind Tiznow, who went on to be named champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.
Captain Steve arrived at Gulfstream Wednesday morning off Santa Anita training that's typically Baffert – bullet work after bullet work after bullet work. The colt is currently the 12-1 second choice in the Bally's Las Vegas future book for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Tiznow is favored at 8-1.
Albert the Great's early season was similar to that of Captain Steve. The Go for Gin colt was merely mediocre at Gulfstream, as he failed in three starts to break his maiden.
However, Zito changed his running style once they reached Kentucky and Albert the Great zipped off on a four-race winning streak that included the Dwyer Stakes (G2) in New York. After a too-bad-to-be-true race in the Jim Dandy (G2), Albert came back with a second in the Travers Stakes (G1) and a third in the Jerome (G2) before romping to victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).In the Breeders' Cup Classic, he ran fourth, just a head behind Captain Steve, and the two of them look well matched once again in the Donn. Sir Bear has run third, fifth and fifth in his three Donn tries, but finished up his 2000 season with a solid third in the Fred Hooper Handicap (G3) at Calder on Dec. 30. In 1998 and '99, the gelding by Sir Leon warmed up for the Donn with victories in the Broward Handicap (G3). Last year, he went into the race off a three-month layoff. Trainer Ziadie is hoping he's found the right warm-up for the Donn.Sir Bear, who became a Grade 1 winner in 1999 with his score in Belmont's Met Mile, won twice last season (Texas Mile and Prairie Meadows Cornhusker) and was fourth in the Goodwood, three and a half lengths behind Captain Steve.Pleasant Breeze last out on Jan. 13 ran third in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap (formerly the Broward), his first start in nearly five months for trainer Jim Bond. The 6-year-old son of Pleasant Tap won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (G2) in August, but was vanned off after the race and never made it back until the Skip Away. Pat Day rides for the first time in the Donn.North East Bound provided the thrill of a lifetime for his owners and trainer Bill Perry last November, when he led nearly every step before getting beat a neck at 42-1 in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1).That effort capped a big season for the 5-year-old son of D'Accord, who won five stakes during the season, including the Cliff Hanger (G3) and the Meadowlands Cup (G2).His only Gulfstream starts came in 1999 on the turf, when he won twice in four tries, both times at more than 40-1 odds.North East Bound might be a better horse on turf than dirt, be he's proven a very versatile sort. Last year, he won the Oceanport Handicap at Monmouth on a sloppy track and took the Meadowlands Cup on a fast dirt track. North East Bound drew Post 7 for the Donn, giving the advantage to Albert the Great for early supremacy, as both have front-running styles.Gander ran some big races last year for trainer John Terranova II, probably his best efforts being a third in the Woodward Stakes (G1) when he was beaten a head and three-quarters by Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens, and a second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when he was three lengths clear of Vision and Verse.He has been training at Gulfstream for the Donn, which will be his first start since he was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Tempest Fugit was in the barn of Carlos Martin in New York, but he was shipped to Bill Mott's stable at Payson Park to prepare for this run. The 5-year-old son of Storm Cat is lightly raced (just nine career starts), but he has four career victories and last out was second in the Broad Brush Stakes at Laurel on Dec. 31.Noble Ruler, trained by Bernie Flint, finished his 2000 season with two straight allowance wins at Churchill Downs. In the Skip Away, however, he never got untracked and made a modest gain through the stretch to finish fifth.The 4-year-old by Academy Award won three of six last season, but he'll get a severe class test here. He also has a new rider for the Donn, with Robbie Davis picking up the mount.