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Donn Handicap: Who will step up?

LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 28: I Want Revenge runs on the track during the morning training for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 28, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 28: I Want Revenge runs on the track during the morning training for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 28, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park is the highlight of this weekend's graded stakes action. The Donn is the 10th race on the Gulfstream card; post time is set for 5:26pm Eastern.  Here's a look at the field:

1-I Want Revenge (6/1): It's been a long road back for the one-time Kentucky Derby favorite after a long stint on the disabled list following his stylish wins in the Gotham and Wood Memorial.  He returned to the races in last summer's Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park and he ran a decent third that day at overbet odds of even money.  He ran once more in the Iselin on August 21st and again could only muster a spot at the tail end of the trifecta. 

I Want Revenge is now a "not-so-young" five-year-old horse that hasn't won a race in almost two years and will be facing a deep and talented field in Saturday's Donn.  Name recognition alone will draw some dollars his way but, at this point, he needs to prove that he's back at the top of his game. 

There's no question about this colt's talent when he's in peak physical condition, at least there wasn't two years ago when he was ripping off big efforts in the Gotham and the Wood.  The question now, of course, is whether or not he's the same horse he was in the spring of 2009.  He didn't embarrass himself in either of his races in 2010 but he faces a tough task against a field of rivals that will demand his best in order to win.  I'm not sure he's at his best, yet.

2-Hear Ye Hear Ye (30/1): It's tough to make much of a case for this four-year-old son of Hear No Evil given what appears to be a severe class disadvantage.  Hear Ye Hear Ye last ran in an Optional Claimer/3NX Allowance race at Gulfstream back on January 22nd.  He beat one horse that day and finished over sixteen lengths behind the winner making it very tough to back this colt in this spot.

3-Morning Line (3/1): After running one of the gutsiest races at the Breeders' Cup last November, Morning Line ran a decent third behind Soaring Empire and Rule in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope.  Everything started fine in that last start - he broke on top and settled into a good pace for the opening quarter in 24.41.  However, he didn't get things easy on the front end as Soaring Empire was helped wear him down early by forcing the issue in through a 2nd quarter in 22.35.  Fourth place finisher Tackleberry came back to take the Sunshine Millions Classic last week.

Over the last three years trainer Nick Zito is 3-for-55 with horses running in graded stakes races in their second start after a layoff (29% ITM, $1.19 $2 ROI).  The only horses to win during that time?  Coal Play in the Salvatore Mile at Monmouth (7/4/09), Cool Coal Man in the Fountain of Youth (2/24/08), and Anak Nakal in the Pennsylvania Derby (9/1/08)

4-Giant Oak (6/1): It's tough to get a good read on this Chris Block trainee as Giant Oak has run well at times over the past year but he hasn't crossed the finish line first in a long.  He won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last November but that was due to a disqualification of Successful Dan following the race.  Prior to that, Giant Oak last saw the winner's circle in May of 2009 after winning the listed Arlington Classic on the lawn.

While Giant Oak isn't a horse that wins a lot of races (4-for-23 lifetime), he is consistent, both in his figures and finishing positions (23-4-5-3).  Giant Oak would seem to be a decent bet to hit the superfecta but I don't know if he'll be able to do much more than that.

5-Eldaafer (8/1): This son of A.P. Indy has won three races in a row, including the Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Championship and the Grade 3 Breeders' Cup Marathon.  Stamina is clearly not an issue with this colt but the ability to hang close enough early on to give him a fighting chance against some very talented rivals is a major question mark.  Eldaafer won at a mile and a sixteenth three races back but that was on the lawn against OC/N3X company and only produced a Beyer of 82.  That's won't cut it today.  Further back, he won at a mile and a eighth (today's distance) last May at Belmont in a $25k Starter Allowance. 

The Donn probably isn't a bad spot to debut Eldaafer if only to get a race under his belt and to prepare him for something a bit later on this spring. 

6-Fly Down 5/2): With the retirements of...well, pretty much every decent three-year-old from 2010...Fly Down is the sort of "de facto" top horse from last year's Triple Crown series.  This Zito trainee was a good third to Zenyatta and Blame in the Classic and he puts in a spirited run almost every time he's on the track.  Other than the Jim Dandy (where he had to check in deep stretch) and the Louisiana Derby (where he appeared really dislike the surface), Fly Down has been in the money in every race of his career.  If the pace is honest, and it's a bit of a question mark if it will be, he'll have a chance to make a move in the stretch.

7-Square Eddie (20/1): Like Hear Ye Hear Ye, Square Eddie is going to have his work cut out for him in this race.  He ran some decent races on synthetic surfaces a couple of years ago during Derby prep season and his last effort on the dirt at Santa Anita was a solid race.  At the same time, this horse just doesn't measure up in terms of class.  He was much the best in that N2X event at Santa Anita but he'll face much stiffer competition in this spot.

8-Rule (4/1): Todd Pletcher had this one ready to go in that Hal's Hope last time out, Rule's first start in almost a year.  Rule might be the key to this entire race in terms of how the pace sets up: if he decides to hang back early on like he did in the Hal's Hope then Morning Line could have things very easy up front.  On the other hand, if Rule decides to mix it up early on that would certainly help the horses that prefer to do their best running in deep stretch.

Several years ago Todd Pletcher did what I thought was an excellent job of turning Lawyer Ron from a need-to-lead horse to a patient, more versatile stalker.  And in the process, Lawyer Ron developed into a top horse in the handicap division.  I wonder if he's going to attempt to do the same thing with Rule, a colt that knew only one way to win last spring.  The Donn should give us a big clue to that answer.

9-Ron the Greek (15/1): The pace doesn't look like it's going to set-up well for a deep closer like Ron the Greek in this race.  Morning Line obviously wants to be on the lead and Rule may or may not decide to go up to challenge early on.  After that there's not a ton of horses that thrive on the front end.  Combine the expected pace with a Gulfstream surface that tends to disadvantage deep closers and it would seem that Ron is going to have a tough hill to climb to take the Donn.