Derby Handicappers, take a week off. The dumb points system doesn’t have any races for you this week anyway. /lame
BUT GOOD NEWS BECAUSE WE HAVE THE DONN HANDICAP (I)! I’ve done pretty well with this race since I began handicapping the ponies… I felt Giant Oak was sitting on a big one in his 2010 upset and I had Hymn Book to win last year. Here’s hoping I can do well again this year. A nice mix of graded winners, improvers, shippers, and dominant Florida runners compose the ten-horse field this year with no clear front-runner.
Weather looks promising enough to ensure a fast main.
$500,000 Donn Handicap (I) - 4-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Gulfstream Park. Post Time: Saturday, February 9 at 5:32pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Bourbon Courage- Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Kellyn Gorder - A consistently good runner, the Lion Heart colt ran very well to just miss the place last out in the Clark Handicap (I) while coming in wide down the lane. I find it *very* interesting that this improving closer gets Castellano, who is almost always on a Pletcher horse. Works look very good and he should be ready to go for a top effort and get a favorable setup. Not a fan of the rail of course, though.
2) Flat Out- Joel Rosario, 121 lbs, Bill Mott - A [surprisingly] good 3rd last out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the veteran Flatter son is the class of the race with two Jockey Club Gold Cup (I) wins and is one of the better dirt horses overall. Mott has him ready from breezing long at Payson, but I’m not a believer in this one if he’s away from New York. In last year’s Donn he flattened out in the stretch, which he often does when not in NY. He’s a strong off-the-pace runner who has a chance, but he’s never been that dominant.
3) Fast Falcon- Jose Lezcano, 114 lbs, Nick Zito - This Awesome Again colt kept catching my eye last year, and I think he could do better than what he has done last year in really mucky setups. The more ground he gets, the better he is, and as a feather-weighted closer I like him here. Lezcano takes the reins on this one again after a 2nd to Cigar Street in a 1 1/16 mile allowance here. He looks sharp, breezing out a 4-panel breezer in :46 1/5 at Palm Meadows. If he can climb out of his recent bad form and hang back until late, he could get this race.
4) Graydar- Edgar Prado, 114 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Unbridled’s Song colt needed no time to catch up off his long layoff, setting fire to the Gulfstream main last out to easily break the mile track record. He’s been working well and is 2-for-2 at Gulfstream already. Pletcher will likely send this speedball to the front early and run the field off their feet despite stretching him out another furlong here for the first time. He’s fast, but I think after his record smash no one’s going to leave him alone.
5) Ultimate Eagle- Martin Pedroza, 120 lbs, Michael Pender - The California shipper of the field and a G1 winner, the Mizzen Mast beast is good at the 9 furlong demands of the Donn and will be eager to go to the front early as it is his style. He was a stubborn second by a head last out to G1 winner Coil in the San Pasqual (II) and looks like he’s been well-maintained. Ultimate Eagle is a good horse by his own merits, but I think he is encountering more class here shipping out and will be vulnerable contesting that lead, which at this point looks like it’ll be fast enough to leave him drained.
6) Ducduc- Junior Alvarado, 115 lbs, Shivananda Parbhoo - With speed on top/distance-bottomed breeding, the Langfuhr colt looks to be yet another ambitious hook shot courtesy of the Parbhoo colors.To his credit, he is 2-for-2 at 9 furlongs but moves up in class after being a distant 4th to Csaba in the Harlan’s Holiday and dead-heating for first with Csaba in the Fred Hooper (III). He’s not fast enough to be perfectly honest.
7) Csaba- Luis Saez, 120 lbs, Philip Gleaves - A standout on the Florida circuit is this stately Kitten’s Joy who decided he likes dirt more than turf. He got a great warmup last month with a score in the Hal’s Hope (III) over a mile where he surged late to win over Pool Play and Pants on Fire. He seems to do well with a 3 or 4 week turnaround between races and looks to be an even better 4-year-old. He can adapt to go to the front or rate behind, so he’ll need the most strategic of rides to get there.
8) Take Charge Indy- John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Pat Byrne - The Florida Derby (I)-winning A.P. Indy colt is the most pedigreed of the field and should suffer no problems getting this 9 furlong feat again. He’s rightly fearsome from the improvement angle shortly after running second to Shackleford in the Clark (I) last out while switching to the highly capable Johnny V. He couldn’t be doing better in his breezes— 4 panels in :47 flat!— and while he should improve off that Clark showing he may be vulnerable as a front-runner who is breaking from the outside in a race full of speed already.
9) Pool Play- Miguel Mena, 119 lbs, Mark Casse - The 8-year-old veteran of 34 starts and son of Silver Deputy, Pool Play comes into this race fresh off a neck loss to Csaba in the Hal’s Hope (III) where he went 5 wide to close with a tremendous rush. He is 4 for 7 at this distance. He looked plenty tuned-up in his last start and looks to improve from there in a race that should favor a closer like him.
10) Citrus Kid- Joe Rocco Jr, 117 lbs, John Terranova II - A “shot in the dark” entry by Lemon Drop Kid, the 4-year-old conqueror of El Padrino is another speed horse who will be making just his 6th dirt start here (he has 3 wins in 5 total dirt starts). Works are long and he’s a rare one that has raced at beyond 10 furlongs. I do love a Lemon Drop Kid who has speed to burn, though this one is a bit of a gamble moving this far up in class without beating that much.
Top Picks in Order:
1) Bourbon Courage
2) Flat Out
3) Pool Play
Everything takes a back seat to pace and class in this particular race, but class can be a muddled question since I don’t personally believe in some of the G1 winners. Bourbon Courage has a big chance to steal this race if he can counter that rail post. I’m buckling with Flat Out because I like how Mott often brings his horses back, and there’s few that are in the same overall class category as Flat Out, even though this is Florida. I was about to use Csaba, but then disliked how he’s going a whole additional furlong from his last race so I’ll go with Pool Play who is still a top choice but will have to show he’s no fluke and close into this pace (I like Pool Play and Fast Falcon better at 10+ furlongs).
Value Pick: Csaba will probably get left alone in favor of all the G1 winners here, but does well here in Florida and has the type of recent speed figures to win