With his foot problems and starting gate issues apparently behind him, Quality Road looks to continue what his connections hope will be a stellar 4-year-old campaign in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 6 at Gulfstream Park.
Quality Road is likely to be an odds-on favorite in a field of 10 in the 1 1/8-mile Donn while conceding six to 10 pounds to his rivals. The son of Elusive Quality sparkled in his 2010 debut, drawing off to win by 2 3/4 lengths in the Jan. 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) at one mile over the same strip. It was the third graded stakes score at Gulfstream for the bay colt, and his fourth overall.
A homebred of Edward Evans and trained by Todd Pletcher, Quality Road seems poised to become one of the nation’s top older horses this year after a successful but tumultuous 2009 season. He established himself as a premier 3-year-old when winning the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Blackberry Presents the 58th running of the Florida Derby (gr. I), but then suffered a pair of quarter cracks that forced the probable favorite to miss the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Later that season, Quality Road refused to load in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita and had to be scratched.
But now, especially at the friendly confines of Gulfstream, Quality Road seems to be a tough favorite to play against. He breezed an easy half-mile in :49.80 Jan. 31 at Palm Meadows in his final tune-up for the Donn.
Overall, Quality Road is 5-2-1 from eight lifetime starts with earnings of more than $1 million. His only loss at Gulfstream came in his second career start, a seven-furlong allowance contest in which he finished runner-up in his 3-year-old debut. Two starts later in the Florida Derby, Quality Road set the nine-furlong track record in 1:47.72.
Regular rider John Velazquez keeps the mount and they will break from post 4.
Duke of Mischief earned his first graded stakes score in the one-mile Ft. Lauderdale, coming from behind to get up in the final strides under Eibar Coa to win by a neck. The 4-year-old Graeme Hall colt won the Iowa Derby last season for his biggest previous victory and has won four of 10 starts overall, but the David Fawkes trainee has been off the board in all three tries at nine furlongs. Coa keeps the mount.
Kiss the Kid took a narrow advantage into the stretch in the Ft. Lauderdale and was game to the finish in his runner-up effort. The 7-year-old son Lemon Drop Kid carried 124 pounds in that contest, seven more than he will tote in the Donn. He is a four-time stakes winner and has earned more than $760,000 from 38 starts, but is winless in his last nine. During that winless streak, Kiss the Kid has missed by a neck three different times. Eddie Castro will ride as they break from the rail for Amy Tarrant.
Mambo Meister went off as the 2-1 favorite while setting the pace in the Ft. Lauderdale and was in contention the whole way before giving way late. Winner of the Spend a Buck Handicap (gr. III) last October for his only graded stakes win, the 5-year-old King Cugat gelding finished a solid fifth in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Santa Anita in his final start last season. He is winless in four starts at the Donn distance.
Dry Martini, an earner of more than $1.2 million, seems to be going in the wrong direction ever since winning a pair of stakes at Belmont last summer, including the grade II Suburban Handicap. The 7-year-old gelding has lost four straight since then, though he was closing well when missing by two lengths in the Ft. Lauderdale. The Barclay Tagg trainee posted a bullet work Jan. 30 at Gulfstream, getting five furlongs in :58.60. The four-time graded stakes winner will have Javier Castellano in the irons again.
The other million-dollar earner in the field is Delightful Kiss, who makes his second start off an extended layoff. A 6-year-old Pete Anderson trainee, Delightful Kiss has bagged five stakes wins in his successful career, the last coming in the 2009 Hal’s Hope. The gritty son of Kissin Kris, who has set two track records in his 26-start career, went to the sidelines with an injury not long after that, returning from a nearly 11-month absence on Jan. 22 when finishing third in a seven-furlong optional claimer at Gulfstream.
$500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 4YO and Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Kiss the Kid (KY), E Castro, 117, A Tarrant
2. You and I Forever (KY), E Trujillo, 115, M D Wolfson
3. Duke of Mischief (FL), E Coa, 117, D Fawkes
4. Quality Road (VA), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher
5. Dry Martini (FL), J Castellano, 117, B Tagg
6. Past the Point (KY), E S Prado, 114, K P McLaughlin
7. Helsinki (KY), R Albarado, 113, R E Dutrow, Jr.
8. Mambo Meister (KY), K J Desormeaux, 117, P A Gleaves
9. Dubai Gold (KY), J Lezcano, 113, J Servis
10. Delightful Kiss (FL), J C Leyva, 116, P D Anderson