The Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida usually provides an early look at some of the best older horses in training and starts to shape a year of competition that culminates in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Saturday's renewal also may have showcased a rising star.
Roses in May went into the 1 1/8-mile event as the heavy favorite off his runner-up finish to Horse of the Year Ghostzapper in last October's Classic at Lone Star Park. But it was Saint Liam who came along to challenge Roses in May on the backstretch, got the lead turning for home and won off by 3 3/4 lengths. Roses in May held second by 3/4 length over Eddington, with Seek Gold fourth.
The outcome was not really a surprise, since Saint Liam finished only a neck behind Ghostzapper last fall in the Woodward at Belmont in a very game effort, then won the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs after bypassing the Breeders' Cup. The lightly raced horse now has six wins from 15 starts. The Donn was his first Grade I win.
-- In Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita, restricted to 4-year-olds, Rock Hard Ten grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch and just held off the late bid of Imperialism to win by a nose. Love of Money was third. Rock Hard Ten, a Kentucky-bred son of Kris S., finished the 9 furlongs in 1:49.24 with Gary Stevens in the irons. He was second in last year's Santa Anita Derby and Preakness Stakes. Shelved after a poor effort in the Haskell last August, he came back in December to win the Malibu Stakes.
Both Stevens and trainer Richard Mandella said Rock Hard Ten moved a little too early on the final turn. "If I was on him, I'd have done the same thing," said Mandella, "taken my shot there. ... He got the job done. That's the important thing."
Mandella said Rock Hard Ten will run in either the March 26 Dubai World Cup or the Santa Anita Handicap -- "It won't be both." Imperialism's trainer, Kristin Mulhall, said her horse likely will go on to the Santa Anita Handicap.
-- Sunday at Santa Anita, Lundy's Liability rallied along the rail to win the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over pace-setting Truly a Judge. Congrats was third in the 9-furlong event, clocked in 1:49.05. David Flores rode Lundy's Liability, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of Candy Stripes. The horse now has won five of eight starts, including last year's $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. "There was a good pace and I just laid in a position where I was comfortable," said Flores. "He picked it up really good at the quarter pole. On the middle of the turn, I just put him in there and he just went on." Lundy's Liability is trained by Bobby Frankel.
Kentucky Derby preps
-- A D.Wayne Lukas Derby hopeful, Going Wild, had things all his own way in Saturday's $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. Sent to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza, the Golden Missile colt repelled several challenges before winning by 1 length over Papi Chullo. The favorite, Giacomo, was home third. Going Wild ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:54.18. Owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, he now has won three straight, including the San Miguel in his last outing. It was his first time around two turns. Lukas, who typically is managing several Derby contenders, said he may run Going Wild back in the Santa Catalina on March 5. "Then from there on in, you've got all those Grade I money races. We'll pick one for him. We're going to give him two more is all" before the Kentucky Derby.
-- Closing Argument proved aptly named in Saturday's $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After trailing longshot Kansas City Boy through much of the race, the Florida-bred son of Successful Appeal went to the lead in the stretch and slowly drew clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Previously undefeated favorite High Fly had no closing punch and finished third, another 1/2 length back. Closing Argument ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.14, picking up his third win in six starts and posing a bit of a problem for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. McLaughlin said he has been at the Dubai World Cup for 10 years and might take Closing Argument there for the $2 million UAE Derby. "But if we don't go, then we're talking Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass -- any of those. Nothing has been decided yet."
-- Proud Accolade was trapped in traffic on the backstretch in Saturday's $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After dropping back to last, the Florida-bred circled horses on the turn and drew clear to win by 4 1/2 lengths, covering 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:29.90. Park Avenue Ball was second and Vicarage third. "Maybe it was a blessing he had to come back like that," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's four-for-four and got a perfect record around one turn now. ... You'd like to think he'd get a distance." Proud Accolade showed promise last summer but finished fifth in the Hollywood Juvenile and sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "We're scratching our heads about the last two races," said winning jockey John Velazquez.
-- At Turfway Park in Kentucky, Snack rallied from last at the half-mile marker to win Saturday's $50,000 WEBN Stakes by 3 lengths over the favorite, Catch Me. Cat Shaker was third. Snack, an Indiana-bred son of Afternoon Deelites, had to swing six-wide to get around the traffic and finished the 1 mile on a muddy surface in 1:38.06. Snack also won the Turfway Prevue last month, coming from well back but was running around two turns for the first time. "I wasn't worried about the two turns," said winning trainer Michael Lauer. "Now, how far (beyond that), I don't know." WEBN is a Cincinnati radio station.
-- Malibu Moonshine rallied from far back to win Saturday's $50,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, beating the favorite, Legal Control, by 1 3/4 lenghts. Seize was third. Malibu Moonshine, a Florida-bred colt by Malibu Moon, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.25. Winning trainer King Leatherbury said Malibu Moonshine "showed all the qualities of a good horse" from the time he entered training. "Of course," he added, "you never know until you get to running them, for sure." The colt's sire also produced Declan's Moon, last year's 2-year-old champion and an early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby.
-- At Delta Downs in Louisiana, Crimson Stag rallied from last in a 10-horse field to win Saturday's $125,000 Louisiana Premier Night Prince Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths over St. Roch. The 7-furlong race, restricted to Louisiana-breds, took 1:28.21. Robby Albarado was in to ride the winner for trainer Dallas Stewart. Crimson Stag is a by son of Glitterman from the D'Accord mare Alabama Anne.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Sixteen lengths was the winning margin for Sis City, a free-running daughter of Slew City Slew, in Saturday's $150,000 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After a commercial break, In the Gold finished second and Jill Robin L was third. In a major disappointment, Dance Away Capote finished fifth of six in her seasonal debut. The 9 furlongs took 1:50.20. "Holy cow! She really surprised me," said winning jockey John Velazquez. "I slapped her with the whip and she started running." The impressive victory was the fourth in Sis City's career and marked her 3-year-old debut. After finishing fourth as a longshot in last fall's Breeders' Cup, she came back to win the Demoiselle at Aqueduct before taking the rest of the winter off for trainer Richard Dutrow. Sis City was claimed for $50,000 last year for a group that includes New York Yankees manager Joe Torre. Trainer Richard Duttrow said he's eyeing the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs on March 19 en route to Churchill Down and the May 6 Kentucky Oaks.
-- Cool Spell got warmed as the field turned for home in Saturday's $60,000 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. After racing in mid-pack for much of the race, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Grand Slam went outside for racing room on the turn and got to the front with a furlong to go. At the wire, she was 2 lengths in front of Sherrie Belle, with Gallant Secret third. The favorite, Gotta Rush, broke slowly and finished fourth. The 7 furlongs took 1:24.36. Cool Spell had not raced since July and trainer John Hennig admitted he thought she was "a couple of works short." But, he added, "Obviously, she responded to trainer better than I thought she would." He said she will point to the March 19 Florida Oaks.
-- In Saturday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Maddalena took command on the turn and blew away from six rivals, winning by 7 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Alfonsina was second and Aspen Tree was third. Maddalena, a Maryland-bred filly by Good and Tough, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs under John Velazquez in 1:16.31. The Todd Pletcher trainee now has won all three of her starts, including a maiden event at Churchill Downs way back last April. After that race, she was put away until last month, when she easily won a conditioned allowance at Gulfstream. Pletcher said he may try the 7-furlong Stonerside Forward Gal on March 5. "We'll keep easing her out. But, as fast as she is, she could probably coast the rest of the way," he quipped.
-- At Delta Downs, Sweet Macaroni pulled a minor upset in Saturday's $125,000 Louisiana Premier Night Starlet Stakes, rallying in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Indigo Girl. Equestrian Girls was third as the odds-on favorite. Sweet Macaroni, a daughter of Malagra, finished the 7-furlong test for Louisiana-breds in 1:28.52 with Robby Albarado aboard.
In other weekend racing:
Medallist kicked off his 4-year-old season by serving notice he'll be a force in the sprint division. The Touch Gold colt led most of the way to win Saturday's $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Mister Fotis, with Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Kela third as the favorite. Medallist, with Jose Santos up, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.62. The Allen Jerkens trainer struggled last fall against top company, skipped the Breeders' Cup but then came back to win the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder in December before taking the rest of the winter off. "I think he'll go a distance if he learns how to settle down a little bit," said Jerkens. He said he's like to try Medallist in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont on May 30. "Those Grade I's really increase their stud value," he added.
Lavender Lass dueled down the stretch with Bank Audit in Saturday's $75,000 Correction Handicap before winning by a hard-fought 1/2 length. Santa Croce was third. Lavender Lass, a 5-year-old Skip Trial mare from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin's barn, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:12.86.
Yougottawanna broke awkwardly in Saturday's $100,000 Seabiscuit Breeders' Cup Handicap. But when the 6-year-old gelding got straightened out, he went right to the lead and never looked back, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Jake Skate. The favorite, Adreamisborn, was third. Yougottawanna, by Candi's Gold, finished the 1 1/16 mile under Jason Lumpkins in 1:41.42.
Nitro Chip exploded to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship Stakes and went on to upset favorite Witt Ante by 1 3/4 lengths. Meteor Impact finished third. Nitro Chip, a 4-year-old Finest Hour gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.86 under S.J. Bourque.
Destiny Calls, a 5-year-old daughter of With Approval, stalked the pace behind Legs O'Neal through much of Saturday's $150,000 Louisiana Premier Night Distaff, then worked clear in the late going to win by 3/4 length. Cute N Noble rallied from last to finish third. Destiny Calls, with Robby Albarado in the irons, ran 1 mile in 1:40.81.
Lac Laronge was home first by 3/4 length in the $100,000 Louisiana Premier Night Sprint after a four-horse stretch battle. Believe Im Special was second and Rent a Prince was third. Lac Laronge, a 5-year-old son of Nelson, was clocked in 59.59 seconds under Lonnie Meche.
And in another mild upset, Where Is My Daddy got the lead on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Premier Night Matron and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Crypto Em, with Kylers Midge third. The favorite, Our Love, raced close to the pace but had no rally and finished fourth. Where Is My Daddy, a daughter of High Occupancy, ran 5 furlongs in 59.28 seconds.
Souris rallied from last in a field of five to win Saturday's $60,000 Pan Zaretta Handicap for fillies and mares by 1 3/4 length. Silver Crown was second and Crow Jane third. Souris, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Defrere, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.26.
Skip and Go went quickly to the front and maintained the advantage throughout Saturday's $50,000 Curribot Handicap, winning by 2 lengths over Bayou the Moon. Fin Entertainment was third in the 1 1/16-mile event for open company, clocked in 1:46.52. Skip and Go is a Texas-bred son of Skip Away.
Deputy Storm got the lead in Saturday's $50,000 King Cotton Stakes, turned back a challenge entering the stretch run and then held on to win by a head over Engineered. Level Playingfield was third while the favorite, Pro Prado, took fourth in the eight-horse field. Deputy Storm is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Forestry. With Luis Quinonez up, he got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.32.