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How Good Was Quality Road's Donn?

Lost in all the talk about Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and the Derby futures was the dominating performance by Quality Road in last Saturday's G1-Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.  The Beyer figure came up 121 (revised down a point after an initial 122), and other performance ratings (Thoro-Graph, Ragozin, etc.) all came up with numbers that met or exceeded anything they've assigned in quite some time.  According to Steven Crist over at the DRF, Quality Road's speed figure for the Donn was "the highest awarded to any race since Midnight Lute's 124 in the 2007 Forego and the highest in a race longer than a mile since the Commentator-Saint Liam Whitney of 2005".  Impressive company, indeed.

Quality Road's Donn stamps him as the clear, early leader in the older horse division, a division that doesn't look to have a whole lot of star power this year outside of Rachel and Zenyatta, assuming they run in open company (a big assumption).  Outside of the fillies, the older horse division really only has Summer Bird and, possibly, Friesen Fire as standouts on conventional dirt.  Derby winner Mine That Bird doesn't appear to be coming back to the track anytime soon, while Gio Ponti, a turf horse, and Rail Trip, a west coast synthetic horse, don't figure to be serious contenders in the division.  So for right now the older horse division is Quality Road's world.

Follow below the jump for further analysis of the Donn and the video replay of the race.

 

The impressive thing to me about Quality Road's Donn isn't the amount of lengths he won by in the stretch but the way he made his move on the far turn.  Watch on the replay: he moves easily and quickly, just gliding along under John Velazquez.  The leader weakened after testing fractions, the rest of the field toils trying to keep up, and Quality Road just rolls on and off of the turn as if he was on rails.  That's the way you expect a 2/5 shot to win a race - in complete control.  It also highlights the high cruising speed that this colt possesses.

It's true that the depth of the field in this year's Donn wasn't anything special as there was nary a true Grade 1 horse in the field outside of the winner.  Most of the other contenders have had difficulty just winning a Grade 2 or a Grade 3 race.  However, I don't think the weakness of this field diminishes Quality Road's performance in any way.  

Quality Road tracked the leader through the opening six furlongs in 1:09.87, testing fractions for a race at 1 1/8 miles.  For comparisons sake, here are the six furlong splits for the other dirt races that Saturday at Gulfstream:

Race

Distance

Condition

Age/Sex

6f Split

1

1 1/8 miles

6,250 Clm

4up FM

1:11.68

3

1 mile

Alw

4up FM

1:12.63

4

1 mile

25k Clm

4up

1:12.53

6

7 f

MdSpWt

3yo

1:10.39

8

1 mile

AlwN1X

3yo

1:10.93

10

1 1/8 miles

G1-Donn

4up

1:09.87

As the table indicates, not only did the Donn produce the fastest six furlong split of any of the route races run that day at Gulfstream but it also produced the fastest six furlongs of all races, one-turn or two turn.  Yes, the Donn was a Grade 1 so we would expect strong fractions, but when you go an opening six furlongs a half a second faster than a seven furlong sprint, that's a solid pace. Throw in the fact that the Gulfstream Park main track didn't appear to be favoring front end speed and it's difficult not to be impressed with the manner in which Quality Road took apart this field.  He was dominate both visually and against the clock.

The only downside to Quality Road is that we probably won't get to see a whole lot of this horse during the year as it looks like the connections are going to undertake a fairly light schedule on their way towards the Breeders' Cup in November. Trainer Todd Pletcher has indicated that Quality Road will be pointed towards the G1-Met Mile at Belmont Park on Memorial Day for his next start.  If that holds true, look for Quality Road to show up at either the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs or the Suburban at Belmont after the Met Mile.  After that he'll probably head to Saratoga for the summer.