That could be decided Feb. 2, when the 50th edition of the 1 1/8-mile Donn is run as the centerpiece of a 10-race program at Gulfstream. The card also includes the $150,000 Swale Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 6 ½ furlongs, in which Robert LaPenta’s Coal Play heads the field for trainer Nick Zito.
Daaher, a 4-year-old colt by Awesome Again , is the 120-pound high weight in a nine-horse field. Unraced as a 2-year-old due to a knee chip, he made his career debut at Keeneland in 2007. The results were unimpressive; he finished eighth in a field of 11.
“He turned left coming out of the gate and lost all chance,” said McLaughlin. “He was way back and that was a total throw-out race. Things just didn’t go well; he’s always trained pretty well and he ran way worse in that race than his training record merited.”
The colt’s other efforts back up the trainer’s statement. He broke his maiden at Belmont by 3 ¼-lengths and has never finished further back than the fourth-place result from his following effort, the 1 ¼-mile Queens Plate Stakes at Woodbine. After a third-place finish at Fort Erie in the Prince of Wales Stakes, Daaher has been unbeaten in his last three starts, including a 2 ½-length win over Midnight Lute in Aqueduct’s Nov. 24 Cigar Mile (gr. I).
“I think his last three races were top races, very good efforts, and if he just repeats those, I think we’ll be good enough to win,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a very nice horse and he’s doing very well.”
According to McLaughlin, Daaher will head to Dubai following the Donn – either for the World Cup or the Godolphin Mile (UAE-I).
“If he happens to get beat and looks like he doesn’t want to stay the 1 1/8 or 1 ¼-mile distance, we may back him up to the Godolphin,” he said. “But right now we think he’ll get the distance in the future.”
Daaher faces previous Donn winner Brass Hat, who captured the 2006 running of the race for owner-breeder Fred Bradley. On the comeback trail for trainer Buff Bradley, the 6-year-old Prized gelding makes his first start since finishing second to A.P. Arrow in the 1 1/8-mile Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs Nov. 23.
Todd Pletcher will send out both A.P. Arrow, an Allen Paulson Living Trust 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy, and Team Valor’s 5-year-old Fairbanks, by Giant's Causeway . Fairbanks was fifth in the Clark in his last outing and has not scored a win since taking the 1 1/8-mile Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) at Santa Anita in March last year, but was second to Brass Hat in the Massachusetts Handicap by just three-quarters of a length in September.
The Helen Pitts trainee Einstein will also tackle the field, moving back to dirt after an impressive allowance victory over the turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 11, his first start since he lost his rider in the Dixie Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico in May. Known as a turf runner, the Spend a Buck colt has nevertheless won two of three starts over the dirt in his 14-race career for Midnight Cry Stable.
Also moving back to dirt is the Doug O’Neill-trained Spring At Last, who makes just his second start since winning last year’s Godolphin Mile March 31. The son of Silver Deputy, owned by Paul Reddam and WinStar Farm, captured a one-mile allowance over the Santa Anita grass Dec. 26 in his return off a layup.
Irving and Marje Cowan’s Wood Be Willing, Zayat Stables’ Dr Googles Boogles, and Amy Tarrant’s Kiss the Kid complete the field.
$500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I, race 9, approximate post 5:13 p.m. EST), 1 1/8-miles for 4-year-olds and upward, dirt
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Wood Be Willing (KY), 115, Jose Lezcano
2. Spring At Last (KY), 119, Eibar Coa
3. Dr Googles Boogles (KY), 115, Kent Desormeaux
4. Daaher (ON), 120, Michael Luzzi
5. A. P. Arrow (KY), 119, Ramon Dominguez
6. Fairbanks (KY), 116, John Velazquez
7. Kiss the Kid (KY), 115, Eddie Castro
8. Brass Hat (KY), 118, Willie Martinez
9. Einstein (BRZ), 119, Edgar Prado