At the very least, the 2014 renewal of the prestigious Grade 1 Donn Handicap promises to be an
interesting one. Along with newly minted Champion 3-Year Old Male Will Take
Charge, the race drew the 2012 Canadian Champion 2-Year Old Colt and Horse of
the Year, a former turf runner, and a whole slew of other characters seeking
fame and glory. On paper, one of the things that stood out the most about this
year’s race is the lack of early speed. Sure, there are two or three that will
likely go early, but no one entered in this race typically runs on the lead.
Whoever ends up leading the way will likely only inherit the spot after it
becomes clear no one else wants to do the early heavy lifting.
Dual Grade 1 winner Will Take Charge was assigned top weight
of 123 lbs and will spot his ten rivals four to eleven pounds. The now 4-year
old will be making his seasonal debut and kicking off what is sure to be a
whirlwind year in which many of the major races for handicap males will be on
his radar. The Donn will be run at 9 furlongs and is carded as the 12th
and final race on Sunday’s card. Along with being streamed by HRTV etc., the
Donn will also be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 as the kickoff for the Jockey Club
Tour on Fox racing series.
From the rail out, here is the field for the Donn Handicap:
Mena, 116 lbs) Of the three I foresee being the ones that could go for the
lead, Uncaptured is the most likely to get it. With the inside post, I believe
Mena will gun him out of the gate and play “catch me if you can.” In his most
recent starts, the 4-year old colt has been trying to make a winning move from
off the pace but to no avail. Being up on the pace has worked best for him in
the past, and though he has only been on the lead by the ½ mile call once in
his career, it is a tactic that could greatly boost his chances of winning in
this spot. With an uncontested lead, Uncaptured will be dangerous.
Will Take Charge—(Luis
Saez, 123 lbs) Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has stated that his champion colt could
run closer to the pace in the Donn, a strategy that will probably be beneficial
given the lack of speed. The handsome chestnut has been training lights out
over Oaklawn’s deeper main track, and let there be no doubt that the Coach
knows how to condition his horses. If he holds his form from the end of last
year, he’ll be tough to beat.
Castellano, 119 lbs) The Louisiana Derby winner signaled that his time off did
not make him lose his edge when winning his comeback here at Gulfstream last
month. It will be interesting to see how the WinStar owned colt renews his
rivalry with Will Take Charge. The last time the two met, Revolutionary came
out on top (though not the winner) when finishing 5th to Will Take
Charge’s 10th in the G1 Belmont. Since then, Revolutionary has had
time off to mature, and Will Take Charge has blossomed as a serious racehorse.
Revolutionary has the edge in that he already has a start and win over this
surface, but he’ll have to build upon his performance last out to beat his
rival to the wire. Threat.
Neck ‘n Neck—(Julien
Leparoux, 116 lbs) A graded stakes winner in 2012, Neck ‘n Neck lost a step
after being off for 11 months due to a fractured sesamoid in his left front
ankle. He has not quite regained his previous form but did manage a nice 3rd
behind Lea in the G3 Hal’s Hope last out. He has faced several of these same
foes in his last two races at Gulfstream, but he will need to step it up if he
hopes to find an answer for them this time.
Rocco, Jr., 116 lbs) In his 2014 debut, River Seven set what was then the track
record for 8.5 furlongs when he won the Harlan’s Holiday. He rides a 3 race win
streak but has never faced the top dirt horses the U.S. has to offer since he
has previously raced primarily on turf and synthetics. If Uncaptured does not
establish the lead, then River Seven is in a good position to go after it
himself. He has previously wired a field, so should he find himself on the
lead, it won’t be completely unfamiliar territory. Another that could be
dangerous on a loose lead.
Velazquez, 116 lbs) Lightly raced Romansh is quite familiar with Will Take
Charge, or at least he should be familiar with Will Take Charge’s powerful
hindquarters as he finished up the track behind that foe in both the Travers
and Pennsylvania Derby last year. He did manage to close out last year with a
graded stakes score, but he’s in over his head here.
Lopez, 114 lbs) The mysterious Viramundo is not
in fact a maiden as many have been led to believe. The Kentucky bred son of
Stephen Got Even began his career in Panama, racing 10 times as a 3-year old.
He won 5 of those races, including a Group 2 event. Since being shipped back to
the United States, however, he has barely lifted a hoof. Though he’s been
training well at Gulfstream, that form hasn’t transferred to the afternoons. He
has managed a pair of 3rd place finishes in South Florida, so he
could pull some surprises, but I doubt it. He finds his best stride late, so
look for him coming up the center of the track if he does make some noise.
Rosario, 117 lbs) Just when you thought you knew Lea, BAM! he springs something
new at you. In his first start on fast dirt, the former turf runner stalked the
pace before rolling to a 3 ¼ upset victory in the Hal’s Hope here last month.
He is also the third entrant that could look to set the early pace, but with
post 8, Rosario would have to use him early to clear the seven to his inside. I
don’t think Rosario will want to use him early against this group, however, so
I see him sitting just off Uncaptured and/or River Seven. He surprised last
time, but he has not yet been truly tested on dirt against the best runners on
this surface. Worth a look at the right price.
Lezcano, 115 lbs) Has been part of the group that has been knocking heads here
at Gulfstream in the stakes ranks. He ran third behind River Seven in the
Harlan’s Holiday as the beaten favorite. Since that race, he has been training
superbly, posting three straight bullet works at Palm Meadows. He finished 2nd
behind Graydar in last year’s edition of the Donn, but he has not reached the
winner’s circle since Sept 8, 2012. His works indicate that he is ready to
roll, but I don’t think his best will be good enough here.
Kappushev, 112 lbs) I honestly cannot think of a single reason why Macho Bull
should be in this race. He has been routinely beaten like a drum by much worse
than what he will face here. Furthermore, he just ran dead last in a starter
optional claimer on February 2, but it has not been uncommon for his trainers
to wheel him back in a short span of time. Last month he was run 3 times within
a 14 day period. The day he wins this race will be the day pigs fly.
Maysonett, 114 lbs) This 4-year old son of Comprise has been my favorite
lovable loser for some time. He has just 2 wins in 35 career starts. He shows
up in stakes races on a frequent basis but generally has little to no impact on
the race dynamics as he generally trails the field. Occasionally he will put
out an in the money finish, and I very nearly had a heart attack when he won
his second career race over the summer. He most recently finished a distant 2nd
to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine
Millions Classic. Despite his tendency to surprise in the exotics, I don’t like
his chances here.
How the Donn unfolds in the early stages of the race will be
crucial to how it all ends. Uncaptured is the most likely to set the early
pace, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Mena, Rocco, Jr., and Rosario playing a
game of cat and mouse up front. Any of the three could be dangerous on an
uncontested lead, but this race is really Will Take Charge’s to lose. River
Seven and Lea looked excellent in their last outings, but if there is going to
be an upset, I believe it will come in the form of Will Take Charge’s previous
rival Revolutionary. I like that duo for the top 2 spots with Uncaptured, Lea, and
River Seven played underneath them.