Will Take Charge, runner-up to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic and the 2013 Eclipse Award Champion Three-Year-Old Colt, takes on a field of ten rivals in Sunday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, the first installment of the 2014 Jockey Club Tour on FOX. (Post time: 6:01 p.m. Eastern; TV: Fox Sports 1). Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Will Take Charge and a winner of over 4,600 races in his career, has never won the Donn. He'll have an excellent shot on Sunday when he sends out the likely heavy favorite.
The Jockey Club Tour on FOX is a ten episode series on Fox Sports 1 (yeah, it's a relatively new channel... here's a Fox Sports 1 channel locator) that will feature top graded stakes action from around the country (well, and world... hello, Dubai) from February until September. Among the races on the schedule this year are the aforementioned Donn, the Dubai World Cup, Blue Grass Stakes, Man o'War, United Nations, Eddie Read, CCA Oaks, Saratoga Special, Sword Dancer, and Woodbine Mile.
The best part of this new televised racing series? Duh, racing in HD! I didn't buy a 50+ inch TV to watch standard def!
One of the highlights of Donn Day is the fact that America's Best Racing will be offering a chance to win a trip for two to the Florida Derby through their Miami Vices - Florida Derby Sweepstakes. (As someone that grew up in the 80s, yes, Miami Vice was the bomb. I did wear shoes without socks in grade school. And pastel colored clothes. Ah, the 80s.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, a trip to the Florida Derby; it's a pretty easy contest to play: sign up, pick a horse to win the Donn and, if you pick the winner, your name goes into the hat for a chance at a trip to the Florida Derby. (Link: Florida Derby Sweepstakes)
Turning our attention to the feature race on Sunday - the Donn Handicap - today a one and one eighth of a mile race on the main track, the Donn was run for the first time in 1959 on the Gulfstream turf course at the distance of a mile and a half. The race was moved to the main track in 1965 and shortened to today's nine furlong distance (although the race was run at seven panels in 1976 when it was won by Foolish Pleasure* and at a mile and sixteenth in 1978).
Among the notable horses to win the Donn are Forego (1974), Deputy Minister (1983), the great Cigar (1995 and 1996), Skip Away (1998), Medaglia d'Oro (2004), Saint Liam (2005), and Invasor (ARG) (2007). Silver Charm finished third in 1999 edition of the Donn.
Joining Will Take Charge in the starting gate for the Donn are:
- Uncaptured: Winner of the G2-Kentucky Jockey Club as a juvenile at Churchill Downs, and a restricted stakes event at Fort Erie as a three-year-old colt - his only victory during his sophomore season.
- Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary (also third in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Belmont).
- Indiana Derby winner Neck ‘n Neck.
- River Seven: winner of the G2-Commonwealth Turf at Keeneland last fall and a winner of three straight races.
- G3-Discovery Handicap winner Romansh.
- Viramundo: A five-time winner in Panama but shutout in six starts in North America.
- G3-Hal's Hope winner Lea.
- 2012 G2-Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage. He was recently fourth to Will Take Charge in the G1-Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
- Longshot Macho Bull, who was sixth in his most recent start against a field of optional claimers at Calder on February 2nd.
- Joshua's Comprise: a winner of just two races in 35 lifetime starts (including a 13-1-2-1 record at Gulfstream).
With the exception of the two horses drawn to the outside - Macho Bull and Joshua's Comprise - the rest of the field has, at times, displayed enough class and consistency at the graded stakes level to at least give them a chance if Will Take Charge does not run his best race on Sunday. If Will Take Charge runs to his best, then the race is clearly for second place. But as we all know in this game, many things can compromise a horse's chances for success and one of the biggest of these factors can be pace.
This year's Donn is a race that looks absolutely ripe for someone (anyone!) to steal on the frontend. The field is full of horses that prefer to run in the middle to the back of the pack, with the exception of two: Romansh and Lea. (You could argue that River Seven also prefers to be on the lead, especially after his dominating gate-to-wire score in the Labeeb at Woodbine. But those races came on the lawn and I doubt his grass gate speed will translate to the Gulfstream dirt on Sunday.)
Lea is a horse I really, really like in this race. A son of First Samurai out of a Galileo (IRE) mare (Greenery), Lea has some serious stamina on the bottom half of the pedigree with a nice dab of traditional American dirt speed on top. He's won his only start over the Gulfstream dirt and sports two wins in three starts on dirt, along with a nice 7-3-2-2 record on the grass.
Taking the Donn field gate-to-wire won't be easy, especially with an in-form colt like Will Take Charge rumbling down the Gulfstream Park stretch in the final quarter mile. But if Lea can get away with some easy splits on the front, even if he ends up stalking Romansh for much of the first six to seven furlongs, he might have enough left in the tank to hold off the hard charging favorite in the final strides.
The highlights of the Donn under card are the Gulftream Park Turf Handicap and the final career start for Groupie Doll, the back-to-back winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, in the G3-Hurricane Bertie. Groupie Doll drew the rail against a field of six challengers and should have plenty of speed to run at in a race that, on paper, looks to set up perfectly for her late closing style. Groupie Doll, a winner of 11 races in 22 starts, finished fourth in her most recent race, the G1-Cigar Mile against the boys, and has only finished out of the money three times in her career.
The race immediately preceding the Donn is the G1-Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap where Amira's Prince (IRE), undefeated in his four starts in North America, will look to pick up his third straight graded stakes win against a field of seven rivals. Amira's Prince won the G2-Muniz Handicap at the Fair Grounds in his most recent start and is a sterling 3-3-0-0 over the Gulfstream Park turf course. The favorite likes to run up near the front of the field in the early stages and, with a 96 foot rail on Sunday, that's definitely the place to be.
Imagining travels down to Florida from New York for Shug McGaughey and Phipps Stable to join the GP Turf Handicap festivities after winning the G3-Red Smith Handicap at the Big A back on Nov. 16th. Imagining has done well when racing on the lead in his previous races and he can't afford to let the favorite to his inside dictate matters at the start of the race.
If things were to get a little hot on the front end (and I stress "if"), perhaps Nikki's Sandcastle can pick up the pieces in deep stretch. This old warrior is a fairly consistent runner that tends to find his way into the mix on the lawn (21-7-3-4) and at Gulfstream (10-3-1-3). He's certainly not the "most likely" winner, but I think he's got an excellent shot at a good run in the final furlongs.
It should be a great day in south Florida on Sunday. Let's get to handicapping!
Below are the entries and post positions for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Morning line odds will be added when released:
|1||Uncaptured||M. Mena||M. Casse||10/1|
|2||Will Take Charge||L. Saez||D.W. Lukas||9/5|
|3||Revolutionary||L. Castellano||T. Pletcher||5/1|
|4||Neck 'n Neck||J. Leparoux||I. Wilkes||20/1|
|5||River Seven||J. Rocco, Jr.||N. Gonzalez||4/1|
|6||Romansh||J. Velazquez||T. Albertrani||6/1|
|7||Viramundo||P. Lopez||M. Wolfson||15/1|
|8||Lea||J. Rosario||W. Mott||10/1|
|9||Bourbon Courage||J. Lezcano||K. Gorder||10/1|
|10||Macho Bull||M. Kappushev||G. Dorochenko||30/1|
|11||Joshua's Comprise||F. Maysonett||B. Rose||30/1|