Stuart Janney III’s homebred Hymn Book tallied the biggest win of his career Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park, roaring down the center of the track and outlasting Mission Impazible to take the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) in thrilling fashion (VIDEO).
John Velasquez guided the 6-year-old Arch gelding to the nose victory. It was the jockey’s fourth win of the afternoon. Hymn Book is trained by Shug McGaughey.
Hymn Book, who has raced on both turf and dirt in his career, finished second in both the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) and Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) last year, but this was his first graded stakes win. He is out of the Known Fact mare Vespers.
The winner raced mid-pack for most of the way in the 1 1/18-mile Donn, while the previously undefeated Trickmeister set the pace under Ramon Dominguez. Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford, making his 4-year-old debut, pressed the leader closely in second. The opening fractions were :23.46, :47.05, and 1:11.06. Mission Impazible and Redeemed were never far off the pace, while Hymn Book was fifth in the field of 11 and wide for most of the way.
Mission Impazible received a dream trip under Javier Castellano, racing toward the inside and when they rounded the final turn a hole opened up for him. The 5-year-old horse shot the gap and took the lead from Trickmeister when they reached the top of the stretch.
But Hymn Book was gaining ground on the outside, and both he and Redeemed were doing their best to get to the new leader. Mission Impazible drifted out as Hymn Book passed him nearing the sixteenth pole, and showed his grit while re-rallying in the final yards after being passed. Hymn Book had just enough to get to the wire first.
The final time on the good main track was 1:49.16. Mission Impazible settled for second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Redeemed and Edgar Prado. Where's Sterling was fourth.
“It worked out perfect," Velazquez said. "I wanted to come out running and go onto the first turn and try to get some kind of position and not be too far back. He broke well enough to save some ground into the first turn and I was able to kind of give up a little bit at the quarter pole. When I pulled him out he came running. He put up a good fight down the stretch.”
Hymn Book improved to 7-4-1 from 14 starts and earnings of $601,187. He won twice in 2011, both in overnight stakes at Belmont Park. But he finished a solid second to To Honor and Serve in the Nov. 26 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in his last start.
“Right after he ran so well in the Cigar Mile I started thinking about this race for him, although I didn’t know it would come up this strong," McGaughey said. "This was a good field. We were concerned about the post position (10 of 11) and he kind of got caught out there on the first turn, but then got a good position down the backstretch.
"Johnny has always had a lot of confidence in him going back to when he was second to Flat Out in the Suburban. He trained great for this race since he got down here and looked good blowing out.
"We’re New York people and naturally will want a fresh horse for the big races up there later this year, but the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II, April 14) is one option we might consider before that.”
The winner paid $15, $7.80, and $5.60. The exacta (10-2) returned $138.80 and the trifecta (10-2-4) was worth $648 for $1.