Harlan's Holiday before last year's Kentucky Derby.

Harlan's Holiday before last year's Kentucky Derby.

Skip Dickstein

Harlan's Holiday Rates Donn's Star Billing

(from track report)
Starlight Stable's Harlan's Holiday, who won last year's Florida Derby (gr. I), tries to complete a unique parlay at Gulfstream Park Saturday in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I).

The Ohio-bred son of Harlan tops a field of 11 in the 1 1/8-mile Donn.

The 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday, trained by Todd Pletcher, will try to become the first Florida Derby winner to take the Donn Handicap in successive seasons. Cryptoclearance is the only other horse to win both races. He captured the Florida Derby in 1987, but did not win the Donn until he was 5 in 1989.

Harlan's Holiday will carry top weight of 120 pounds in the Donn. John Velazquez will ride the 8-5 morning line choice from the far outside post 11.

Second choice on the line at 5-1 is Dogwood Stable's Windsor Castle, who showed his current good form by winning the Hal's Hope Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream on Jan. 11. Third choice is Glen Hill Farm's Bonus Pack, who finished second to Harlan's Holiday in an allowance tune-up on the Gulfstream main track Feb. 2.

As a 3-year-old trained by Ken McPeek, Harlan's Holiday finished second to Booklet in both the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and the Fountain of Youth (gr. I) en route to the Florida Derby. In the $1 million main event, Harlan's Holiday roared to the lead around the far turn and drew out to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

His next start came in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on April 13 at Keeneland and Harlan's Holiday scored convincingly enough to send him off the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. There he finished seventh as the longest-priced favorite in Derby history (6-1) and after he ran fourth in the Preakness, owners Jack and Laurie Wolf changed trainers.

In his first start for Pletcher, the colt won the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III), but in three successive grade I starts against older horses ran third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic and fourth in the Cigar Mile.

Harlan's Holiday prepared for his 4-year-old season at the new Palm Meadows training center until mid-January, when he was shipped to Gulfstream to train over the track for his 2003 debut. In that 1 1/16 mile allowance on Feb. 2, he showed his patented run around the turn and scored by nearly two lengths over Bonus Pack. He now has a record of two wins and two seconds in four Gulfstream starts.

"I thought (Harlan's Holiday) ran very well here the other day, and I thought he ran well in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year, because he was stuck down on the inside in both races," Pletcher said. "But he ran a very nice race over this track the other day and I think he'll run well in the Donn."

Frank Alexander has been waiting for the real Windsor Castle to step up for the last two years. However, the trainer thinks the 5-year-old has finally come into his own this season and will be able to fulfill the promise he showed as a 2-year-old when he won the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and was then purchased by Cot Campbell's Dogwood operation.

Windsor Castle suffered several setbacks at 3 and 4, but won at Gulfstream Jan. 11, when he rallied strongly to win the Hal's Hope going away. Saint Verre was 1 1/2 length back in second. It was Windsor Castle's first stakes victory since he won the Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 25, 2000.

"We've had some minor problems with him (Windsor Castle) including a muscle pull at Saratoga last year, but we don't need to do much with him right now," Alexander said. "After his last work he wouldn't have blown out a match."

Bonus Pack, trained by Tom Proctor Jr., has done well in all his Gulfstream appearances (two wins, two seconds in four starts), but will try stakes company at the South Florida track for the first time. The 5-year-old had to wait for room on the turn in the race against Harlan's Holiday, then made a strong run the last sixteenth to get the place, three lengths in front of Mr. John.

Blue Burner and Hero's Tribute, both rated at 8-1 on the morning line, also have Gulfstream credentials.

Trainer Bill Mott trains Blue Burner, a 4-year-old son of French Deputy who raced well here last year when he was third behind Booklet and Harlan's Holiday in the Fountain of Youth and then second to Harlan's Holiday in the Florida Derby. The colt was injured during the Kentucky Derby (he finished 11th), and did not return until Jan. 25, when he rallied to beat Puzzlement by a head in an allowance event. Blue Burner has been training well at Payson Park as he looks for his first stakes victory.

Hero's Tribute was one of a John Ward-trained trio of 3-year-olds here in 2001. He won an allowance race here that winter, but took a different route to the classics as Ward developed Monarchos to win the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. The son of Sea Hero won twice last year, as if he was getting back to good form, but he ran fourth as the favorite in the Hal's Hope 'Cap in his 2003 debut. He's had a steady string of Palm Beach Downs works since then to get ready for the Donn.

Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens will send out two horses with opposite running styles in the Donn. Puzzlement is a late-running son of Pine Bluff who will be a stretch threat. Saint Verre, second to Windsor Castle in the Hal's Hope, had a sharp six-furlong work during the week and should be challenging for the lead.

"We had some bad luck with him (Puzzlement) just before the Travers last year and he still finished fifth in that race," noted Jerkens. "After he ran in the Jockey Club Gold Cup we decided not to run him any more and we gave him some time. Hopefully, now we can put him back where we think he belongs. Hopefully we weren't mistaken."

Of Saint Verre, Jerkens said, "I think his last race was his best race because he came from behind. The way he ran last year he always had to be on the front end. But you can do more with a horse when you can teach him to run from behind so now we think he might have a better year."

Niall O'Callaghan trains Keats, who needs the lead. Last year, Chavez tried to slow the horse down the first half-mile. Keats resented the restraint and finished last of 14 in the Donn won by Mongoose. He will be the front-runner Saturday.

"He has won three out of four starts here," O'Callaghan pointed out. "This is his kind of track. He's hard to beat when he's on the front end, and you don't really have any choice with him because he drags you to the front. However, a mile and a sixteenth is his best distance and the Donn is a mile and an eighth. Actually, I don't see him winning this race I really don't but second money is almost $100,000 ($95,000) and that's about the same as winning three allowance races. You have to go for the money."

Free of Love, trained by Rick Violette, finished sixth in last year's Donn. The 5-year-old won the Westchester Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont last May, but was fifth in the Sunshine Millions Classic at the Gulf in his 2003 debut.

Request for Parole won on the Gulfstream turf course on Jan. 3, but was fourth in Harlan's Holiday's prep, three lengths behind Mr. John, who drew the rail Saturday. The Elliott Walden-trained 5-year-old was making his first start since winning the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) in July. Mr. John won an allowance race at Gulfstream in February of 2001.

$500,000 Don Handicap (gr. I), 3 & up, 1 1/8 mile
PP. Horse, Wgt., Rider
1. Mr. John, 114, Mark Guidry
2. Hero's Tribute, 114, Edgar Prado
3. Keats, 111, Jorge Chavez
4. Windsor Castle, 116, Eibar Coa
5. Saint Verre, 114, Jose Santos
6. Blue Burner, 114, Jerry Bailey
7. Free of Love, 113, Pat Day
8. Puzzlement, 113, Cornelio Velasquez
9. Request for Parole, 113, Manoel Cruz
10. Bonus Pack, 115, Earlie Fires
11. Harlan's Holiday, 120, John Velazquez