Harlan's Holiday drew the outside post for Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and also was loaded up with the top weight in the field of 11. Despite the disadvantages, the 2002 Florida Derby winner got the job done and, in the process, moved a little higher on the ranks of top older horses.
The son of Harlan, with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher, got a good start and worked his way into contention before the field hit the first turn. Kept in the clear on the outside, he sat right behind the pace-setters until Velazquez gave him the okay to run at the top of the lane. He easily drew clear to beat Hero's Tribute by 2 ½ lengths. Puzzlement was third. The 9 furlongs took 1:49.17
Pletcher said post positions, by themselves, aren't necessarily good or bad. "Sometimes you get good trips from bad posts and sometimes you get bad trips from good posts," he said. Today, the break was critical and fortunately he broke running and secured a good spot."
Harlan's Holiday now has won both his starts as a 4-year-old. Last year, he won three of 10, including the Florida Derby, the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Pennsylvania Derby. He was the 6-1 pari-mutuel favorite in last year's wide-open Kentucky Derby but finished seventh in that race.
Pletcher said Harlan's Holiday "has stamped himself certainly as one of the top three or four older horses in the country," adding that he is considering the Dubai World Cup, pending developments in the Middle East. "Obviously there are a lot of factors involved going to Dubai but it's certainly a race we're interested in," the trainer said.
Elsewhere in the handicap division:
--At Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Colorful Tour was shuffled back in the pack on the first turn of Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap, but made another run when asked and posted a 1 ½-length victory over Ask the Lord. Premeditation was third as the 1 1/16 mile was clocked in 1:46.62. The Illinois-bred son of Tour d'Or is trained by the colorful P. Noel Hickey. Racing mostly on the Chicago circuit, Colorful Tour has won 9 of 15 lifetime starts, including his last four races.
Kentucky Oaks preps
With the Derby hopefuls mostly between engagements, the 3-year-old fillies were in more of a spotlight than usual during the weekend.
--My Boston Gal came into Sunday's $150,000 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park undefeated in three starts and Ivanavinalot was the local heroine with an impressive record. But when the fillies turned for home, it was Yell, an A.P. Indy filly from the barn of Shug McGaughey who turned on the afterburners and drew off to win by 6 lengths. Ivanavinalot, after leading the way, held on for second and Gold :Player was third. My Boston Gal was last of five. McGaughey admitted the jump from allowance ranks to a Grade II stakes was a lot to ask of Yell but said the result represented "a big step forward." He said the Bonnie Miss Stakes on March 14 at Gulfstream might be Yell's next try. McGaughey, of course, still has Breeders' Cup winner Storm Flag Flying in his barn, awaiting her 3-year-old debut.
--Also Sunday at Gulfstream, Bird Town rallied from just off the pace and ran away with the $50,000 Charon Stakes, winning by 12 ½ lengths over Crafty Brad with Westerly Breeze third as the favorite. Bird Town, a daughter of Cape Town, has never been off the board in six lifetime starts for trainer Nick Zito.
--At Tampa Bay Downs, Just Bill Me, with Rosemary Homeister Jr. up, tracked the early leader in Saturday's $50,000 Suncoast Stakes, then put in her run as the field hit the stretch. After getting the lead, she held off Crimson and Roses to win by ¾ of a length. The 1 1/16 mile was clocked in 1:46.57. "She started moving on the leader very easily all on her own around the second turn," Homeister said. Just Bill Me, a daughter of Master Bill, may move along to the Florida Oaks or take a swing at the Gulfstream Park competition.
Kentucky Derby preps
--Second In Command may have raced his way into Derby contention with a dominating, 8 ¾-length victory in Saturday's $75,000 Best Turn. The Silver Deputy colt, with Jean-Luc Samyn up, went right to the lead and didn't let up, finishing the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.68. Super Fuse was second, with Mustbeinthefrontrow getting home third. Trainer Linda Rice said before the Best Turn that if Second In Command ran well in the Best Turn, she would consider him for the $200,000 Gotham on March 16 -- a 1-mile prep for the Wood Memorial. "It was a big effort from him," Rice said Saturday from Florida. "The horse can rate if he has to but we told Jean-Luc that if he broke on top, to just go to the lead."
--At Tampa Bay Downs, White Buck sat behind a pace duel in Saturday's $50,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, then battled to a neck victory over Freedom Lane in 1:45.47 over a track made sloppy by mid-day rains. "He really wanted to run on the backstretch," said winning rider Roger Velez. "He was just dragging me. I wanted to bide my time because he has a habit of goofing off once he makes the lead. But he really wanted to do some running today." The son of That's Our Buck Might be considered for the Tampa Bay Derby but trainer Jerry Paradise said he will wait to see what kind of tough competition ships in for that race before making a commitment.
In other weekend racing
Trainer John Salzman said before Saturday's $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap that his super filly, Xtra Heat, doesn't really like "off" tracks. You'd never know it by the way she ran Saturday on a day not fit for man nor beast, thanks to a cold rain, mist and mud. Jockey Rick Wilson let his chief rival, Carson Hollow, set the early pace. But halfway through the race, Xtra Heat took charge and opened a clear advantage. At the wire, she won by 1 ¾ lengths over Carson Hollow. Spelling was third. It was the 26th win for Xtra Heat, a $5,000 yearling purchase who is closing in on $3 million in lifetime earnings. Wilson said Salzman had told him to take the lead but he was comfortable where he was. "Once we got in front, I was sure we were a winner," he added.
T he male sprinters were on display a race earlier in the $200,000 General George Handicap, run in a pea-soup fog. My Cousin Matt, with Raymon Dominquez up, emerged from the mists four-wide coming into the stretch and raced clear to win by 3 lengths over Peeping Tom. Disturbing the Peace finished third. Trainer Scott Lake said My Cousin Matt's owner, Rick Englander, "thinks he's the best sprinter in the country. I think he has a little to prove yet but this moves him in the right direction."
Sunday, Tempest Fugit didn't exactly fly but he ran a good enough time to win the $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap over Quiet Gratitude. Lyracist was third. Tempest Fugit finished the 9 furlongs over a "good" track in 1:49 4/5 with Jose Caraballo in the irons. The favorite, P Day, lost a shoe on the backstretch and finished second-last.
Spring Meadow, a 4-year-old daughter of Meadowlake, took Saturday's $125,000 Las Flores Handicap for fillies and mares. Brisquette was second, a neck back, and September Secret finished third. Winning rider Corey Nakatani said he expected Spring Meadow to tire since she hadn't raced since Dec. 28. "But she's a special filly. I got on her a lot when she was a 2-year-old and I'm glad to get the chance to ride her again," he said.
Sunday, Buddy Gil, a gelded son of Eastern Echo who was making his first start on the turf, upset the $100,000 Baldwin Stakes for three-year-olds. With movie star Gary Stevens up, Buddy Gill finished the about 6 ½ furlongs down the hill in 1:12.56. King Robyn was second and With Fortune third. The favorite, Apalachian Thunder, got home fourth. Stevens recently returned to racing after working for three months on the filming of the movie "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," which is slated to open this summer at a theater near you.
Ifyouprefersilver went right to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Chou Croute Handicap for fillies and mares and just kept going, winning by more than 9 lengths over the favorite, Salty Farma. Took Out was third. With Frank Lovato Jr. up, Ifyouprefersilver ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.67. She is a 4-year-old daughter of Silver Deputy. "She broke sharply and we pretty much inherited the lead," Lovato said. "I was kind of surprised. I was looking for some challengers, but in the lane I had some horse left, so I knew it was going to take quite a bit to beat her." She now has won five of her six lifetime starts.
Sunday, Mountain General got room to run on the outside inside the furlong marker and went on to win the $100,000 Taylor's Special Handicap by ½ length over Speed Hunter. Mountain General, a 5-year-old son of Mountain Cat, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.32 under Corey Laniere. "When I was turning for home he was in tight and a little bit uncomfortable, but at the eighth pole he put his head in front and I could feel he became more comfortable with his position," Lanerie said. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Mountain General will move along to the Pelleteri Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 16.
Golden Gate Fields
Echo Eddie, the odds-on favorite, tossed his rider at the start of Saturday's $100,000 Ken Maddy Sprint, opening the door for El Dorado Shooter and Giovannetti to take over the race. El Dorado Shooter came away with first-place money, finishing a head better than Giovannetti. A late rush by Radar Contact and Debonair Joe put both of them within a length of the winner, too. El Dorado Shooter recorded his 10th victory in 20 career starts and his second win in the Ken Maddy. The winning time was 1:09.08.
Witt Ante, the odds-on favorite, got off to a troubled start and was caught in traffic on the backstretch, but then took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Clyde Stevens Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, winning by 7 lengths over Lac Laronge. Soot was third. Witt Ante, a son of Upping the Ante, ran 7 furlongs in 1:26.05.
Olympic Express took an outside, waiting position in the middle of the pack through the early going in Sunday's HK$8 million Hong Kong Cup -- the second leg of the Triple Crown series. At the top of the stretch, he took the lead from pace-setting Housemaster and then held off a late bid from Dr More. Elegant Fashion was third, another neck back. Olympic Express, already the winner of the Hong Kong Classic Mile, Hong Kong Derby and Hong Kong Mile, now becomes a potential player in the Asian legs of the World Series Racing Championship, including the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong and the Singapore Airlines International Cup. Those races are the second and third legs of the series, following the Dubai World Cup.Olympic Express in a 5-year-old son of Bishop of Cashel. Trainer Ivan Allan said Olympic Express won despite some compromised training. "He had a temperature last week, he was off his feed for two days and two nights and he had to miss a gallop,"Allan said.