Emerging national handicap division star Hymn Book will eventually return to New York, trainer Shug McGaughey said Feb. 12, but the Donn Handicap (gr. I) victor could be headed for Arkansas first.
“One of the things on my mind would be the Oaklawn Park Handicap (gr. II),” McGaughey said of the April 14 race worth $350,000. “Hopefully, he’d be the kind of horse we can use in some of the races in New York.”
McGaughey reported that Stuart Janney III’s 6-year-old homebred son of Arch came out of his thrilling nose victory in the Donn in great shape. The trainer said that Hymn Book has thrived with the change from turf racing to the dirt but that none of it would have been possible without the ultimate equipment change.
“He wouldn’t have been any good if he wasn’t gelded,” said McGaughey, who made the call to geld Hymn Book following a poor debut on July 24, 2009.
Hymn Book won four straight races on turf after being gelded but never ran in a stakes on grass. After scoring in an off-the-turf overnight stakes at Belmont in May, he came right back to finish a distant second behind Flat Out in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II). He finished off his 2011 campaign with a runner-up finish behind To Honor and Glory in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct, prompting McGaughey to target the Donn for his 2012 debut.
In the Donn, John Velazquez guided a stalking Hymn Book to the outside in the stretch to collar Mission Impazible , who had a dream run though on the inside but drifted out in the lane. Mission Impazible fought back in deep stretch but Hymn Book prevailed in gritty style.
“It was surprising how deep the race was, but it didn’t surprise me that he ran as well as he did," McGaughey said. "He’s just one of those hard-trying little horses that tries every time. Johnny rides him really well and keeps him in the race,” McGaughey said.
“I was happy, but I wasn’t surprised. He’s trained really well this winter at Payson Park. I knew if he ran his race, he’d be a horse to reckon with.”
Hymn Book, bred in Kentucky, is out of the stakes-winning mare Vespers, by Known Fact. The dark bay's first graded stakes victory, worth $300,000, pushed his career mark to 7-4-1 in 14 starts with earnings of $601,187.