2015 Donn Handicap & Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap Preview

Two weeks ago, the Picks & Ponderings Winter Tour stopped at Gulfstream for a look at Holy Bull Day.  This week, the Tour makes a return trip to Gulfstream Park.  While the track cards six stakes this Saturday, four of which are graded, the focus of this piece is only on two of them.  Those two races are the Donn Handicap and Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.  Both races carry Grade One stature and are the last two races on Gulfstream's marathon thirteen-race card.

Despite the narrow choice, the two races discussed in this piece - the Donn and the Gulfstream Park Turf - are part of the "X-Country Pick Four", an inter-track pick four sponsored by XpressBet that has a $500,000 guarantee and covers the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, Donn Handicap, San Antonio Handicap, and San Marcos Handicap.  This piece focuses only on the Gulfstream pair in the X-Country Pick Four; consult Nicolle Neulist's preview for a look at the Santa Anita races - the San Marcos and San Antonio.  All four races in the X-Country Pick Four will be televised on Fox Sports 1 from 5:30-7:30 PM ET.  HRRN will also provide live radio coverage of the X-Country Pick Four, and Gulfstream Park's website offers a free stream as well.

Along with Nicolle's preview from Santa Anita of the San Marcos and San Antonio in the X-Country Pick Four, it also includes an examination of the G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for three-year-olds.  Also be sure to check out Paul's preview of the G3 Withers Stakes for three-year-olds from Aqueduct.

Morning lines for these Gulfstream races, scheduled for February 7th, were not available at original publish time. All post times given below are those given by Equibase as these post times are purely an approximation and the track is known for running races after the advertised post time.

Updated February 5th with morning line odds.

Gulfstream Park -- Race 12 -- Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap -- One and One-Eighth Miles on Turf -- post time 5:28 PM ET, to air live on Fox Sports 1.

Generically named, the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap is sometimes referred to by its initials of GPTH to differentiate it from the Gulfstream Park Handicap at a one-turn dirt mile later in the meet.  The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap has had other vanilla names in the past, but it's always been a grass race since its birth in 1986.  Originally at a mile and a sixteenth, it was stretched out to eleven panels in 1990 and was gifted with Grade 3 status that year too. By the end of the 1990s, it climbed to Grade One status.  Briefly stretched out to a mile and seven-sixteenths in 2006, it was turned back to nine furlongs in 2009 and ever since has been at a grassy mile and an eighth.  Three hundred thousand dollars is the purse. Past winners of note include double winner Einstein (2006,2008), whose wins sandwiched that of Arlington Million winner Jambalaya (2007).  Another winner of note is 2000 victor Royal Anthem, the broodmare sire of Palace Malice - the same Palace Malice whose equipment change in the 2013 Kentucky Derby is the impetus of Nicolle Neulist's non-ChicagoNow space at Blinkers Off.

Selections and analysis are "turf only". At publish time the rail is to be set 84 feet from the zero position, and the run-up distance is thirty-two feet.

Maybe MSHAWISH needs firm turf.  It looked like his form went in the dumpster in the G3 Knickerbocker, but that was over a wet "yielding" course and the last two over a firm Gulfstream course have seen the form rebound and blossom closer to the horse that was a very good fourth in the G1 Dubai Duty Free.   And compiled with the abroad form (worst races over "good" or "soft"), maybe MSHAWISH does need firm turf, which he should get over the Gulfstream grass.  His two most recent starts have turned him into a "now" h1orse, one that's getting Javier Castellano to ride.  It's Pletcher at Gulfstream too, so the chances are there but don't expect a high price on the tote.  Worth noting he annexed both the El Prado Stakes two back the G2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes last out, both over the local green.  While he stretches out to nine panels, that was the same distance of his fourth in a strong G1 Dubai Futy Free.  Another runner on the stretchout is WAR CORRESPONDENT.  Last seen in the Autumn Stakes over the polytrack in Canada, he tries nine furlongs for the first time in his career.  Yet in France he was a winner at ten furlongs and second at nine and a half before making the ship to the States.  Winner of a two-other-than allowance over Monmouth grass, and that grass configuration in New Jersey plays similarly to Gulfstream. WAR CORRESPONDENT is from the Christophe Clement shedrow. That's worth noting as Clement is going synthetic-to-turf with WAR CORRESPONDENT and that's a scenario with a 23% win strike rate for the trainer.  Perhaps nine panels is too short for IMAGINING based on the solid form he showed last year in winning the G1 Man O' War at Belmont and being in the same zip code as Main Sequence, better known as a Male Turf Eclipse Winner.  Second in this race last year to defending champ LOCHTE, IMAGINING does have two wins deeper down in the past performances at nine furlongs.  While he's done well needing the lead at longer distances, perhaps he can come off the pace at a shorter distance with a target in front of him.  The presence of stretch-out GOLDEN RIFLE gives this runner something to reel in.  Worth mentioning he zipped off a bullet work on January 24th at Payson.


#1 MSHAWISH (7/2)


#3 IMAGINING (3/1)

Longshot: It's a noticable step up from a twice-other-than allowance to a Grade One.  But if you're going to jump multiple rungs, having some things in your favor makes the jump easier.  If the horse's jockey/trainer team is hitting is at 29% wins/61% in the money for the thirty-one times they've united, that's a favorable thing.  Or if the trainer is hitting at 29% wins on the meet (in forty-two starts), that's another favorable thing. And if your conditioner excels at second-off-layoff situations (26% wins) and the horse is on that, it's another plus point. #2 AMEN KITTEN (10/1) has those plus points, plus he's one of the bazillion Kitten horses that trace back to the ownership and breeding empire of Ken & Sarah Ramsey.  Wesley Ward trains and Rafael Hernandez rides.  The humans and human angles make this one playable, and he's four-of-five on the podium over the local weeds.  With MSHAWISH likely to be favored and taking money, you'll get those solid humans at a fair price and get the chance to root for an Illinois-bred, too.

Gulfstream Park -- Race 13 -- Donn Handicap -- 1 1/8 miles on Dirt -- post time 5:58 pm ET, to air live on Fox Sports 1.

Headlining Gulfstream's six stakes day is the last race of its card, the Grade One Donn Handicap.  They'll go nine furlongs here, a full circuit around the Gulfstream dirt.  Half a million dollars will be on the line in this event that's part of the X-Country Pick Four.  This race pays homage to James Donn Sr., who purchased the track in 1944 and later served as President.  First run in 1959, it was taken to the dirt in 1965 after time on the turf and fixed at the nine panel distance, aside from two runnings in the 1970s.  The Donn was given Grade One status in 1988 and typically has been run in early February. And it's a staple of the older handicap division as well.  Notable dirt winners include four-time Horse of the Year Forego (1974), double winners Pistols and Roses (1993-94) and Cigar (1995-96), the latter of which has a G1 mile named for him at Aqueduct, Gulfstream stakes namesakes Skip Away (1998) and Harlan's Holiday (2003) and Illinois-bred Giant Oak (2011), seen in the video below from Youtube.

If LEA is back from the mothballs and the same horse he was in 2014 when he won the Donn, he should etch his name among the double winners.  The figures say he's as sharp as he was last year when winning the local prep to this race, the G3 Hal's Hope at a one-turn mile.  There's a :49 2/5 work at Payson after the Donn, and that's not a surface where you'll set the speed limit.  It looks like he won't regress second off the layoff, and the Mott trainee could be back to what he was before.  As he was even money in the Hal's Hope, the tote price won't be high on him.  Yet, he looks faster than the others if he runs back to the Donn of last year and/or duplicates his Hal's Hope from earlier this year.  EAST HALL is based out of Gulfstream Park for most of the year and as such, holds a home-track advantage.  Six of nine in the money over the Gulfstream dirt, and two of those losses were when he wasn't quite developed to the level of the Wildcat Red-General a Rod tandem that sliced and diced the Florida prep races for the Kentucky Derby last year.  Without those two he got some stakes placings then got good enough to take down the Ohio Derby and the G2 Indiana Derby.  Last out second at today's distance over this oval, though that was against state-breds and he is taking a noticeable class hike.  Last year's Florida Derby winner, CONSTITUTION, is one of three from Todd Pletcher in the field, the others being COMMISSIONER and PROTONICO.  While CONSTITUTION won the G1 Florida Derby over nine panels at today's course, he disappeared soon after into the injury black hole that claims so many Derby-bound hopefuls.  He emerged from it last fall at Belmont, where he was fourth and too keen in an allowance tune-up.  Last seen on the day after Thanksgiving in the G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill and ran third, while being on the engine for the most of the way and yielding to Hoppertunity, who goes in the San Antonio and behind runner-up PROTONICO.  There isn't a ton of one-way speed in here, so maybe CONSTITUTION from an inside draw gets a cozy inside trip and can stay on and fight.


#4 LEA (9/5)

#3 EAST HALL (15/1)


Longshot: Blah blah, Pletcher at Gulfstream.  Blah blah, LEA trying to repeat.  The talk centers on them, and no one is saying anything about #10 PRAYER FOR RELIEF (12/1).  Maybe that's because PRAYER FOR RELIEF's last graded stakes win came in the 2013 G3 Cornhusker.  But as PRAYER FOR RELIEF is a Dale Romans trainee, and it seems Romans pulls off a win when the spotlight is off him and no one is talking up his horse - look to the Forward Gal for an example. PRAYER FOR RELIEF likes to be forwardly placed, and that's an asset at forward-friendly Gulfstream and could be a bonus if Gulfstream soups the track up for a national television audience.  He likes the distance (four wins and nine money finishes in seventeen tries) and got a useful tuneup chasing LEA in the local feeder.  PRAYER FOR RELIEF gets a rider switch to local Edgard Zayas, still having a solid meet and hanging tough despite the presence of the northern riders.


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