John Oxley's 4-year-old Strong Contender wasn't seriously injured when clipped from behind in the roughly run Hal's Hope Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 6. According to trainer John Ward, the robust colt remains on target for the Donn Handicap (gr. I), to be run on Feb. 3 at the south Florida track, one day prior to the 2007 Super Bowl in nearby Miami.
“The way he got hit out there was the same as when a football player gets pulled by the face mask and whiplashed,” said Ward while watching Strong Contender jog alongside a pony late during the Wednesday morning training session at Gulfstream Park.
“With his long full stride, when another horse hits him in the hind end the way he did, it totally knocks a horse's spine out of line. Fortunately, he's a strong, muscled horse and he was able to protect himself.”
Strong Contender, who was making his first start of 2007 after winning the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs last September, was banged early in the race and forced to steady. Despite the trouble, the chestnut son of Maria's Mon maintained his stride and finished fifth, almost six lengths behind race winner Chatain.
Ward had been letting Strong Contender recover from muscle soreness since, but he said the colt was close to a workout and still on schedule for a challenge to Horse of the Year favorite Invasor in the $500,000 Donn going 1 1/8 miles.
“You'll probably see him on the work tab this weekend,” said Ward. “I've been giving him these slow jogs. It usually takes humans about 10 days to allow the muscles to rebuild themselves after they get strained the way his did. He's been doing fine through that and should be ready to go.”