Anyone who saw his antics prior to last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) would not have recognized Quality Road as the same colt that demolished the field Feb. 6 in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) in track-record time at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO).
With regular partner John Valezquez aboard, Edward P. Evans' 4-year-old homebred drew off to a 12 3/4-length trouncing of a clearly overmatched field as the 2-5 favorite, blasting home in a final time of 1:47.49 for the 1 1/8-mile distance over a fast track. The final time eclipsed the mark of 1:47.72 that the son of Elusive Quality established in winning last year's Blackberry presents the 58th running of the Florida Derby (gr. I).
Quality Road's margin of victory was the largest in the Donn's 52 runnings, breaking the record of nine lengths set in 1972 by Going Straight.
Back at his favorite track for trainer Todd Pletcher, Quality Road was perfectly cool warming up and going into the gate for the Donn, a marked contrast to the colt who delayed the start of the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Nov. 7 by refusing to load, eventually forcing his scratch from the $5-million event.
Instead, coming out of the gate alertly in the Donn, Quality Road settled in nicely while taken in hand and tracked second choice Past the Point, who got the early lead for Edgar Prado and clicked off swift fractions of :23.21, :46.02, and 1:09.87. Stalking less than a length behind on the final turn, Quality Road smoothly angled up to challenge the leader, getting the advantage and taking command before completing the sweeping bend.
Quality Road enjoyed a daylight lead at the top of the lane but had plenty more to give when roused by Velazquez nearing mid-stretch. He burst to a five-length lead at the eighth pole and widened from there in a superior display of talent. He won for the fourth time in five starts at Gulfstream.
“Watching the replay it looked awesome, it felt awesome," Velazquez said. "It was just awesome. Down the lane I wanted to make sure I encouraged him to finish because up until then I hadn’t really done much with him. He started to look round a bit, so I tapped him with the whip to encourage him a little and he just drew away from everybody.
"He just needed a moment (entering the gate) to feel comfortable, and then he was fine.”
Dry Martini, with Javier Castellano aboard, closed well to beat the rest. Delightful Kiss, last in the nine-horse field early, also rallied to gain the show spot by a head for jockey Juan Leyva while finishing one length behind the runner-up. Mambo Meister just missed third, with Helsinki, Past the Point, Kiss the Kid, Duke of Mischief and Dubail Gold completing the order.
Quality Road, a Virginia-bred bay colt out of the Strawberry Road mare Kobla, improved his career mark to 6-2-1 in nine starts while boosting his earnings to $1,332,830 with the Donn's winning purse of $300,000. Quality Road was coming off a 2 3/4-length victory in the Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Jan. 3, his first start since the Breeders' Cup meltdown.
“Not much to say after a performance like that," Pletcher said. "Obviously, he ran the kind of race we know he’s capable of and the race set up just as we thought with Past the Point going to the front. He (Quality Road) put himself in good position and they went fast. He’s got a very high cruising speed and can go :46 and 1:09 and still keep going. Not many horses can do that and he was spotting weight to all those horses, six pounds or more.
"The plan for him here all along was to run in the Hal’s Hope and then the Donn, give him a little break, and then point for the Met Mile (gr. I, Belmont) and the big races at Saratoga before the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) in the fall. Mr. Evans and I will talk about it again, but I think that will be the plan."
The winner carried top weight of 123 pounds and paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10. Dry Martini returned $6.20 and $4.20. Delightful Kiss was $4.80 to show.
You and I Forever scratched.