Donn Lures a Variety of Handicap Horses
By GREG MELIKOV
The 53rd Donn at Gulfstream Park is a wide-open contest as a variety of older handicap horses clash in the first major stakes of the year.
Three runners tuned up for the 1 1/8-mile race on Sunday. Rule, who finished second in the Hal’s Hope Jan. 8 after a 10-month layoff, drilled a bullet in 1:00 1/5 for five furlongs at the Palm Meadows training track. It was the fastest of 23 works at the distance.
The 4-year-old son of Roman Ruler was sent to the sidelines with an injury after finishing third to Ice Box in the 2010 Florida Derby. That ended a four-race win streak.
Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer went a half-mile in 48 3/5 on Gulfstream’s main track. The son of A. P. Indy is on a three-race win streak that included victories on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface and Laurel Park’s turf course.
However, the best the 6-year-old could do in four outings last year at Gulfstream was a third in a grass route.
Giant Oak, who will be making his debut at the South Florida track, breezed five furlongs in 59 2/5.
The son of Giant’s Causeway broke a 14-race losing streak in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last fall when he was elevated to first after stewards disqualified favored Successful Dan for interference.
Two other 4-year-olds posted bullet works at Palm Meadows on Saturday. Morning Line went a blistering 47 3/5 for four furlongs, fastest of more than 60 horses, while Fly Down zipped five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, quickest of more than 30 works.
Morning Line, third in the Hal’s Hope, hadn’t been worse than second in six previous starts last year that included being runner-up to Dakota Phone in the BC Dirt Mile and winning the Pennsylvania Derby over First Dude.
Fly Down is coming off a third-place finish in the BC Classic. The son of Mineshaft finished second in the Belmont Stakes and Travers after capturing the Dwyer.
The field will include two horses on the comeback trail. Square Eddie, who missed the entire ’09 season, won an allowance sprint on Jan. 14 at Santa Anita where he has been training. He breezed six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 on Saturday.
I Want Revenge, given a long rest since running third in a pair of stakes last summer, worked for the third time in January at Gulfstream, covering six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 handily.
The 5-year-old of Stephen Got Even was sidelined 15 months with an injury after being scratched as the likely favorite on the morning of the ’09 Kentucky Derby.
I’ve been fortunate to witness quite a few Donns since the ‘60s. There have been some exciting races like Judgable’s nose victory over Snow Sporting in ’71 when he returned $63.20 for $2, the third highest payoff.
I also saw Pistols and Roses edge Irish Swap by a head in ’93 and pay $91.40 — the second highest return.
One of the most electrifying events occurred when Holy Bull, fresh off ’94 Horse of the Year honors, battled Cigar on Feb. 11, 1995. I’ll never forget those disheartening words from track announcer, Tom Durkin: “Holy Bull stopped! Holy Bull stopped suddenly!”
“I feel like the life has come out of me,” jockey Mike Smith said after the race. He heard a pop entering the backstretch – not even halfway of the 1 1/8 miles – and pulled up Holy Bull to avoid further injury.
“You could feel it happening,” he explained. “The best way I could put it is, it felt like a flat tire . . . blump, blump, blump.”
Jerry Bailey, who was on the winning Cigar, described the tragic moment in the winner’s circle: “Both horses were running perfectly. We were both comfortable. Then I heard a pop. I thought it was a stirrup breaking. Then Mike yelled, ‘Oh, no, Jerry.’ ”
Holy Bull’s left leg suffered severe ligament damage, but not life threatening. Trainer Jimmy Croll, didn’t waste any time retiring the big gray.