Starlight Stable's Harlan's Holiday, winner of the Florida Derby (gr. I) last year, made a triumphant return to Gulfstream Park Sunday, taking an allowance race by 1 3/4 length in preparation for the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) on Feb. 22. The 4-year-old colt by Harlan was under a stiff drive through the stretch by jockey John Velazquez as he held off Bonus Pack to win in 1:42 1/5 for the 1 1/16 mile. Harlan's Holiday paid $3.40 as the favorite in the field of six for the $46,000 heat. "We're very pleased with his effort today," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who took blinkers off the bay for Sunday's race. "We came down here with the idea of running him in the Donn. Hopefully, the 20 days he has between this race and the Donn will be sufficient."
Pletcher took over the training of the Ohio-bred last summer after Ken McPeek had guided Harlan's Holiday through a winter-spring campaign that included victories in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Harlan's Holiday was seventh as the longest-priced favorite in Kentucky Derby (gr. I) history (6-1) and then ran fourth in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). In his first start for Pletcher, Harlan's Holiday won the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III). In his last three starts of 2002, the colt was third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic and fourth in the Cigar Mile (all gr. I). In winning for the eighth time in 17 races, Harlan's Holiday beat a field that included two other classic starters, Mr. John, who was third, and Request For Parole, who finished fourth. There were two other graded stakes winners, Hail The Chief and Bonus Pack, in the field as well. Harlan's Holiday now boasts career earnings of more than $1.95 million.