Last month in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, former turf runner Lea indicated that the lawn might not necessarily be his preferred surface. In his first ever start over fast dirt, the Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm owned horse stalked the early pace before powering home an emphatic 3 ¼ length winner. Any questions as to whether or not that win was a fluke were answered today in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
Breaking from post 8 with Joel Rosario aboard, Lea immediately went to the front to vie with Uncaptured, Canada's 2012 Horse of the Year, for the early lead. Running head-to-head, the pair cut splits of 23:40 and 47:21. As the field hit the half-mile call, it was five of them across the track as Bourbon Courage, River Seven, and Romansh joined Uncaptured and Lea at the front. Favored Will Take Charge was tucked in behind those five on the rail, getting the ground saving trip from regular jockey Luis Saez. Tightly bunched right behind Will Take Charge were Neck ‘n Neck, Revolutionary, and Viramundo, and it was another 4 lengths back to long shots Macho Bull and Joshua’s Comprise.
Entering the turn, Lea advanced past Uncaptured and put that rival away for good. Behind him, Will Take Charge back pedaled in order to swing to the outside to commence his stretch run. By the time the 3-Year Old champ had worked his way to the outside, Lea had already started to open up on the lead. Turning for home, Lea put 3 lengths between him and his younger foe, who had advanced into second. With a furlong left to go, Will Take Charge looked hopelessly beaten, but he kept trying anyway. In deep stretch, the colt finally started to make some headway, but the colt who usually finds a way to get there saw his late surge fall 1 ¼ lengths short.
It was another 9 lengths back to long shot Viramundo, who bested fourth place finisher Bourbon Courage by 1 ¾ lengths. Uncaptured, who had vied with Lea for the lead, faded to fifth. The order of finish was completed by Neck ‘n Neck, Revolutionary, Joshua’s Comprise, Macho Bull, River Seven, and Romansh.
After running three-quarters in 1.10:90 and the mile in 1.34:74, Lea finally stopped the clock for the mile and an eighth race in a track record of 1.46:86. The chestnut son of First Samurai shaved more than six-tenths of a second off the former mark set by Quality Road on March 28, 2008. Runner-up Will Take Charge also eclipsed the prior 9 furlong track record, finishing the Donn Handicap in 1.47:08. Sent off at odds of 5-1, Lea returned $13/$4.60/$4 for a $2 win wager. Will Take Charge, the 3-2 favorite, paid $3.40/$2.80, and Viramundo paid a healthy $11.80 for the show. The $2 exacta returned $51.40, the $1 trifecta paid $576.40, and the $0.10 superfecta was worth $395.79.
Though the race did not exactly pan out as trainer Bill Mott had envisioned, he was nevertheless pleased with how things worked out. “The horse that was on the lead wasn’t the one that I thought would be there but it turned out to be the same type of trip that we thought we might be able to get. It’s always a different challenge when you move to the dirt. I felt he was capable but the competition was stiff and we were in against a champion. We were good enough to beat him today,” Mott explained.
“I saw when (Will Take Charge) broke free and I knew he’d be running at us. We were good enough to scoot away from him. It’s a long year and the big races are at the end of the year and there’s a lot of good racing in between. Right now I’d love to point him for the Whitney at Saratoga,” Mott said.
In making his 4-year old debut in a tough Grade 1 race, Will Take Charge lost absolutely nothing in defeat, a fact his trainer D. Wayne Lukas was quick to point out, “We got blocked for a bit and couldn’t get out, so we couldn’t move as quickly as we wanted to. That’s just horse racing. We also didn’t have a race over the track, which turned out to be a disadvantage. They had to set a new track record to beat us, so that’s all you need to know. Kudos to the winner.”
A homebred for owners Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, Lea boosted his overall record to 12: 6-2-2. He also improved his record on fast dirt to a perfect 2-for-2. With the lion’s share of the Donn Handicap purse, Lea’s career earnings were considerably boosted to $709,618. His sire First Samurai stands at Claiborne, and the farm also owns Lea’s dam Greenery. Lea is the first foal for Greenery, who was sired by the great Galileo.