ELMONT, NY - JUNE 11: Jose Valdivia, Jr. rides Ruler on Ice to victory during the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, 2011 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
[Apologies for the light posting over the past few days; I'm fighting a nasty cold that has knocked me out and put a big dent in my handicapping.]
Saturday looks like it is going to be an excellent all-around day of racing at Gulfstream Park with two Grade 1s, the Donn and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, headlining a fantastic card that will run over a wet main track and a turf course currently listed as "GOOD". The Donn Handicap has drawn a large and competitive field, led by several of the bigger names from the 2011 season and a couple of lightly raced horses that look to finally step up to the big stage.
Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap, along with a look at the field.
|1||Where's Sterling||J. Lezcano||N. Canani||12/1|
|2||Mission Impazible||J. Castellano||T. Pletcher||6/1|
|3||Ruler On Ice||R. Napravnik||K. Breen||6/1|
|4||Redeemed||E. Prado||R. Dutrow||12/1|
|5||Soaring Empire||J. Leparoux||C. Gambolati||10/1|
|6||Al Khali||A. Garcia||W. Mott||20/1|
|7||Flat out||A. Solis||C. Dickey||5/1|
|8||Trickmeister||R. Dominguez||R. Dutrow||6/1|
|9||Shackleford||J. Castanon||D. Romans||7/2|
|10||Hymn Book||J. Velazquez||S. McGaughey||8/1|
|11||Sangaree||R. Maragh||K. McLaughlin||10/1|
1-Where's Sterling (12/1) broke his maiden over a sloppy/sealed Gulfstream main track back in January of 2011 and he notched a decent victory in the G3-Iselin at Monmouth Park last August. On paper, he appears to be a run or two below this group but if he's able to run big over the wet surface, he could certainly be in the mix.
2-Mission Impazible (6/1) can sneak up and run a good race at the Grade 1 level but also has a tendency to throw in a real clunker now and then. His career starts over wet tracks follow the same pattern: he finished 2nd by a head in a sprint race at Gulfstream over a sloppy/sealed track, and also finished 9th, over ten lengths back, in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. I'm staying away for the mere fact that this colts has been a bit so-so when racing after an extended rest period and I think he'll have his hands full with this group.
3-Ruler On Ice (6/1) is probably pretty happy that the Gulfstream main track has come up sloppy today as two of his three lifetime wins have come over wet tracks. The Belmont winner has run credibly in most of his races since his big win last June, with the exception of his distant 5th place finish in the G1-Clark in his last start.
4-Redeemed (12/1) is a lightly raced colt coming into the Donn of of a good score in the G3-Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct last November. He's never run over a wet track but the progeny of his sire, Include, have done fairly well over the mud. He likes to be up near the front in the early stages and if the wet track plays well for speed he could be in the mix.
5-Soaring Empire (10/1) struggled in the G3-Hals Hope in his last start and has had very little success in his career when trying Grade 1 company (3-0-0-0). He won his only start over an off track when he took the ungraded Rutgers Stakes at Monmouth Park back on Nov. 6th of 2010.
6-Al Khali (20/1)* hasn't raced over a dirt track since May of 2009 when he finished 6th (beaten 15 lengths) in the G2-Peter Pan at Belmont Park. Since that time he's raced exclusively on the grass and, typically, at distances of at least 10 furlongs. He won the G2-Bowling Green Handicap way back in September of 2010 and since then has sloshed through a nine race losing streak. On turf, he's a competitive horse in Grade 1 races. On dirt, he seems to be significantly outclassed. His only victory on the main track came against N1X company at Gulfstream in March of 2009. He followed that up by losing badly in his next two dirt attempts - the G2-Illinois Derby and the aforementioned Peter Pan. The one sliver of hope that one could find with Al Khali on the dirt is Medaglia d'Oro's success with horses running over a sloppy track. Brisnet's Sire Stats rate Al Khali's sire as an ‘A+' in the ‘Mud Starts' category.
*Al Khali is also entered in the G1-Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, the race immediately after the Donn Handicap. Obviously, he'll scratch out of one of those races.
7-Flat Out (5/1) ran off an impressive quartet of races from early July to early October, and then stumbled pretty badly in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Clark Handicap, and Fort Lauderdale, that last race coming on the lawn. He's clearly not a turf horse as he gave no indication he wanted to do any serious running in the Fort Lauderdale. Flat Out will likely take a good deal of money at the windows on Saturday, but I wouldn't blame anyone for being a bit gun-shy of this horse; I'm a little concerned that this six-year-old is past his peak, even though he's run well on a sloppy track in the past.
8-Trickmeister (6/1) is a lightly raced, undefeated five-year-old son of Proud Citizen. He's a perfect five-for-five in his career but has only run one time since August of 2010 - a win in the ungraded Harlans Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream back on Dec. 17th. He's obviously had some serious physical problems during his career given the huge gaps in his race record, but it's also quite obvious that he's an immensely talented colt. The Donn is easily the toughest race he's entered at this point in his career but none of these horses are unbeatable and most have serious question marks surrounding them. Trickmeister, with his natural early speed and fairly strong stamina, could be awfully tough to catch on the front-end. He won over a sloppy/sealed track at Delaware Park in July of 2010 when he won the ungraded Barbaro Stakes.
9-Shackleford (9/2), winner of last year's Preakness, makes his four-year-old debut in what looks like a tough, tough spot for him. If this race was a one-turn mile, I wouldn't be that concerned about Shackleford. But a two-turn, nine furlong race just doesn't seem like the best fit for him at this point in his career. He's run well at this distance at Gulfstream before (won an N1X and finished second by a nose in the Florida Derby last spring), so he shown he can win while covering this route of ground. I'm leery of Shackleford at 7/2; I could be tempted if he were to drift into the 9/2 range.
10-Hymn Book (8/1) is a wet track specialist (4-3-0-1) and appears to be placed into this race with the hope that the track would turn up just as it did this morning - sloppy.
11-Sangaree (10/1)* hasn't had his picture taken in quite some time (March 2009) but comes into this race off a pretty good second place effort behind Jackson Bend in the G3-Hals Hope on Jan. 14th. He's run fairly well on dirt during his career (4-0-3-0) but all of his victories have come on synthetic tracks in California. He's also drawn way out in the 11-hole in a race that has a very short run into the first turn. He's not a horse that tends to show a lot of early speed but it's highly likely that he's going to have to go four or five wide into the first turn unless the jock walks him out of the gate. Tough call.
*Sangaree is also entered in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap but as a "Main Track Only" entry. As of 9am Pacific, that race is still on the Turf and is likely to remain so given it's Grade 1 status.
I wasn't a huge fan of the top horses last year after they spent the season beating up on each other and running inconsistently in race after race. Trickmeister, despite the physical problems he's dealt with in his career, is a colt that has a great chance to secure a big win today. At 6/1 on the ML, and running against a field of horses that have generally displayed a lot of inconsistency in their careers, I'll take Trickmeister for the win.