Huge Gain for Gulfstream Park’s On-Track Handle on Donn Day

On-track handle at Gulfstream Park Saturday was $1,254,814, a 20.75% increase from the previous year’s Donn Day mark.

There were 10 races Donn Day this year, as there was Donn Day last year, which fell on Feb. 2.

Overall handle on the Gulfstream card, combining on-track handle with interstate and intertrack wagering, reached $13,816,476.54, up 14.54% from last year’s mark of $12,063,021.78.

Grand Couturier Waiting for Rain to Stay on Target for ’09 Debut

Marc Keller’s turf star Grand Couturier skipped the day of scheduled workouts on the Gulfstream Park grass Sunday morning while trainer Bob Ribaudo hopes rain arrives in South Florida soon.

The 6-year-old English-bred son of Grand Lodge remains on target for the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) on Feb. 21 in what would be one of the earliest starts to the season for the three-time Grade 1 winner.

“This is the first time in the last couple of years he’s been doing this good, this early in the year,” said Ribaudo Sunday morning. “It’s a long year and we want to get him cranked up for the summer and fall, but he’s just doing so well, we want to get him started.”

Ribaudo said Grand Couturier would work Monday morning on dirt at Gulfstream in what would be the horse’s third drill this winter following an 11th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita won by Conduit.

Training on the grass was under consideration, but Ribaudo will hold off until the dry spell in South Florida breaks.

“I want to wait on some rain before putting him out there,” he said. “It’s been so dry that I want to keep training on the dirt until we can get a couple days of some nice rain. He runs well on any type of ground, but I don’t want to train over it until it softens a little bit.”

Grand Couturier earned his second consecutive victory in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1) at Saratoga last summer and rolled to an impressive win in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) on ‘yielding’ ground at Belmont Park in September prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

Beethoven’s Team Resigned but Satisfied with Seasonal Debut

Trainer John Ward correctly handicapped the results of Saturday’s $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park, but he’s disappointed that Beethoven, the 3-year-old colt he conditions for John Oxley, would be hard-pressed to finish in the money after drawing the far outside post 10.

Despite the son of Sky Mesa’s fourth-place finish behind Saratoga Sinner in the 1 1/8 miles contest, beaten 4¼ lengths, Ward was satisfied Sunday morning with his colt’s effort and is looking forward to the horse’s next race.

“He’s bright and happy this morning,” said Ward. “He lost by exactly the amount of lengths you would expect when you start in the outside post while giving up weight to the winner (eight pounds). It was a learning experience. Considering that, I’d have to say I’m satisfied with his performance.”

Beethoven had won his previous two races, including the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29 in his final race of 2008. As a graded-stakes winner, he carried 122 pounds from post 10 at a distance with a relatively short run into the first turn.

Ward is convinced that, at level weights in a race with a hypothetically staggered start, his horse would have contested Saratoga Sinner for the win, and he’s looking forward to a rematch. He just isn’t sure where that rematch might take place.

Ward could bring him back in the $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) here on Feb. 28 at one mile, and would not have a problem cutting back to a one-turn race. He will be looking for specific things before deciding to make that race.

“I have no desire to take him out of town,” said Ward. “The main thing I want to see will be my horse’s muscle development. I’ve built up his stamina. Now, I need to put more muscle on him and I need to see if I can do that through training, or if I have to go in another race before the Florida Derby (G1).”

Dr. Pleasure & Alaazo Bid to Get Back on Track in Wednesday Feature

Owners John Oxley and Zayata Stables each had reason for high hopes for their respective horses, the 6-year-old Dr. Pleasure and the 4-year-old Alaazo, at some point earlier in their careers.

Dr. Pleasure and Alaazo are entered to make their 2009 season debuts in Wednesday’s 1 1/8 miles allowance feature at Gulfstream Park with Edgar Prado to ride Dr. Pleasure for trainer John Ward and Jose Lezcano in the saddle on Alaazo for trainer Todd Pletcher in a field of 10.

Dr. Pleasure is a regally bred son of Thunder Gulch out of Oxley’s Eclipse champion mare Beautiful Pleasure and was a bit player as a 3-year-old in 2006, finishing third to Eclipse champion Bernardini in the Travers Stakes (G1), but has still won only two of 17 career starts. He makes his first appearance since losing his rider after clipping heels during the running of the Fayette Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on Oct. 25.

Alaazo is an A.P. Indy colt purchased for $350,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales. He won his first two career starts for trainer Bill Mott – a maiden score at Monmouth Park as a 2-year-old and a nine-furlong allowance here early last year by 3 ½ lengths – but hasn’t won in five starts since then.

Alaazo finished eighth in a Keeneland allowance last out in October in his first start for Pletcher.

Completing the field for Wednesday’s feature are Willmott Stable’s Coach Shaw, Terry Hamilton’s Dubai Gold, Rose Family Stable’s Hal’s My Hope, Michael Bruder’s M B Sea, E. Paul Robsham’s Deputy Indy, Phipps Stable’s Cosmic, Clyde Martin’s Fancy Runner and Trident Stable’s For You Reppo.

Lieutenant Ron Returns in Thursday Feature

West Point Thoroughbreds’ 4-year-old Lieutenant Ron was very much the ‘buzz’ horse early in his career for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, but obviously didn’t fire his best shot last out when fifth as the favorite in the Discovery Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct on Nov. 22.

A chestnut colt by Graeme Hall, Lieutenant Ron returns to competition in Thursday’s six-furlong allowance feature at Gulfstream Park with regular rider Alan Garcia to ride. Prior to the Discovery, Lieutenant Ron had won three of four starts, all in New York.

Lieutenant Ron faces eight rivals in Thursday’s race with Juddmonte Farm’s 7-year-old gelding First Word a very intriguing prospect making his first start since winning a tough allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 7, 2007 by 3¼ lengths under jockey Julien Leparoux.

First Word is a Juddmonte homebred by Chester House trained by Bobby Frankel. He flashed brilliance on occasion during his career, winning five of 22 starts with six seconds. Leparoux gets the return call on First Word, who is returning from a 15-month layoff.

Completing the field are Cre Run Enterprises Johns Grooms, Two Tone Farm’s Dragon Fi, Jacobson Racing Stable’s I Ain’t No Saint, E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Hometown Boy, Rose Family Stable’s Rexson’s Rose, Luis Olivares’ Green Vegas and Timothy O’Toole’s Gentleman James.