How strong is the field for the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I)? Included among the nine starters is a horse that enters off a win in a Breeders’ Cup race, another that bagged the Clark Handicap (gr. I) last out, and a third that set a track record in his season debut. And none of those three are likely to be favored when they go to post Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park for the key 1 1/8-mile contest for older horses.
Nick Zito trainees Fly Down and Morning Line, both thought to be among the top handicap horses in 2011, could wind up as the top two choices in a star-studded Donn, the feature of an 11–race card that also includes the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) and Suwannee River Stakes (gr. IIIT). Post time is slated for 5:25 p.m. EDT. Multiple graded stakes winners Rule and I Want Revenge are also part of the contentious Donn field.
A week after scoring in the Holy Bull (gr. III) with Dialed In, Zito holds a strong hand in another lucrative Gulfstream race. Stablemates Fly Down and Morning Line, both grade II winners as 3-year-olds a year ago, form a solid one-two punch as uncoupled entries. Fly Down, the 122-pound high weight, will make his season debut after closing out his sophomore campaign with a solid third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. The son of Mineshaft recorded his biggest win in the Dwyer (gr. II) and was runner-up in the Belmont Stakes and Travers (both gr. I), and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).
Julien Leparoux has the mount on Fly Down, who runs for Richard Pell.
Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Morning Line disappointed in his season debut Jan. 8 at Gulfstream when third as the even-money favorite in the one-mile Hal’s Hope (gr. III). He ended his 3-year-old season with a flourish when winning the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and missing by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). The two-turn Donn could be more to Morning Line’s liking, as all three of his career wins have come when routing.
The son of Tiznow will be ridden by John Velazquez once again.
Eldaafer, upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, Clark victor Giant Oak, and Square Eddie, who returned from a more than one-year layoff to set the 6 1/2-furlong track record in an allowance race at Santa Anita last month, are all key players in the race.
Six-year-old Eldaafer finished seventh in last year’s Skip Away (gr. III) in his only start on the Gulfstream main track, but he rides a three-race win streak into the Donn. The versatile son of A.P. Indy has won on three types of surfaces and at three different distances during his impressive streak. Trainer Diane Alvarado has assigned Edgar Prado to ride the gelding.
Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak broke a 14-race losing streak when he won the Nov. 26 Clark Handicap via disqualification. The Chris Block trainee, who was fourth in the BC Marathon, has been working steadily this winter at Gulfstream. He will try to make his run from off the pace under Shaun Bridgmohan.
Square Eddie arrived from California Jan. 30 for trainer Doug O’Neill, two weeks after dazzling in his first start since returning from retirement. A sprinter for much of his 13-race career, the 5-year-old Smart Strike horse will make his second start on dirt and should be part of the pace.
WinStar Farm’s Rule, winner of a pair of grade III races as a sophomore, has never been off the board in eight lifetime starts for Todd Pletcher. He was runner-up in the Hal’s Hope last month when returning from a nearly 10-month layoff. Pletcher won the 2010 Donn with Quality Road.
I Want Revenge, an unfortunate morning-line scratch at the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), made two starts in 2010 when returning from a serious injury and finished third in both. The Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner will make his first start since last August for Rick Dutrow Jr, who has enticed leading New York jockey Ramon Dominguez to ride the horse for the first time.
$500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 5:25 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. I Want Revenge (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, R E Dutrow Jr.
2. Hear Ye Hear Ye (FL), J Sanchez, 113, S I Gold
3. Morning Line (KY), J R Velazquez, 119, N P Zito
4. Giant Oak (IL), S Bridgmohan, 118 C M Block
5. Eldaafer (KY), E S Prado 118, D Alvarado
6. Fly Down (KY), J R Leparoux, 122, N P Zito
7. Square Eddie (ON), C S Nakatani, 116, D F O'Neill
8. Rule (KY), L J Castellano, 119, T A Pletcher
9. Ron the Greek (FL), L J Lezcano, 116, T Albertrani