Fly Down’s highly-accomplished rivals in the 53rd edition of the 1 1/8 miles Donn include WinStar Farm’s 4-year-old Rule, ranked among the nation’s leading Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects early last season, but sidelined after finishing third as the favorite in the Florida Derby (G1) in March; and Virginia Tarra Trust’s 5-year-old Giant Oak, winner of the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill in late November on a disqualification.
Rule was beaten 1 ½ lengths for it all by Zito-trained Ice Box in the Florida Derby before missing the Kentucky Derby and the rest of the season. A homebred colt by Roman Ruler, Rule returned with a good effort finishing second in the one-mile Hal’s Hope Handicap (G3) here on Jan. 8, beaten 1 ¼ lengths. Jockey Javier Castellano gets a return call
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan flies in for the mount on Giant Oak for trainer Chris Block as he makes his first start since finishing second by a head behind Successful Dan in the Clark on Nov. 26 before awarded the victory by the stewards. The chestnut son of Giant’s Causeway ran big races to finish a close second in both the Washington Park Handicap (G2) at Arlington Park and Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) earlier in the year.
In addition to Fly Down, Zito sends out another top contender with solid credentials of his own in Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable and Zabeel Racing International’s 4-year-old Morning Line with John Velazquez aboard.
A son of Tiznow, Morning Line developed late last season to win the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Philadelphia Park in his stakes debut and sixth career start. Zabeel recently purchased an interest in Morning Line privately from Thoroughbred Legends.
Morning Line came back with a big performance to finish second by a head behind longshot Dakota Phone in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill on Nov. 6, adding to a season of tough beats in major events for Zito’s powerful stable. Morning Line returned this year with a good third-place effort in the Hal’s Hope, beaten 1 ¾ lengths for it all as the even-money favorite.
The big question mark in the deep field set for the Donn will be J. Paul Reddam’s 5-year-old Square Eddie shipping in from California for trainer Doug O’Neill with Corey Nakatani coming along for the ride. The son of Smart Strike was a major player as a 2-year-old in 2008 after beginning his career in England, winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and finishing second to Midshipman in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, both races run on synthetic surfaces.
Square Eddie made six starts as a 3-year-old in 2009 without a victory, although placing in stakes at Keeneland and Santa Anita. Following a sixth-place try in the Malibu Stakes (G1) late that year on Dec. 26, he was tried at stud, but brought back to the races in an allowance race at Santa Anita on Jan. 14 this year when he dazzled while winning by 3 ¼ lengths and setting a track record for 6 ½ furlongs.
Alghuwayriyah Stable’s 6-year-old gelding Eldaafer won a Breeders’ Cup race in his last start and makes his 2011 debut in the Donn, but will be a longshot in the field as his victory at Churchill Downs came in the 1 ¾ miles Marathon (G2), and his effectiveness at nine furlongs at this level of competition is a question. Jockey Edgar Prado rides the son of A.P. Indy for trainer Diane Alvarado.
Completing the field for the Donn are IEAH Stables and partners’ I Want Revenge, Ramon Dominguez; Jack Hammer’s Ron the Greek, Jose Lezcano; and Jacks or Better Farms’ Hear Ye Hear Ye, Jeffrey Sanchez.
Battle of Hastings Looks for Better Trip in Gulfstream Park Turf
Mike House’s 5-year-old English-bred gelding Battle of Hastings is a Grade 1 winner of more than $1.3 million and the most accomplished in a field of eight drawn for the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) at 1 1/8 miles. Battle of Hastings will have to bounce back from a sixth-place finish last out as the favorite in the Fort Lauderdale Handicap (G3) over the course on Jan. 8.
Jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard Battle of Hastings for trainer Greg Fox in the 1 /16 miles Fort Lauderdale as they ran into traffic trouble and checked in the stretch, although beaten only 1 ½ lengths for it all with a valid excuse.
A son of Royal Applause, Battle of Hastings was making his first start since drawing off to a 2 ½ lengths victory in the River City Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 after ranking among the best of the division in California the two previous seasons when trained by Jeff Mullins,
An intriguing entry in the Gulfstream Turf is Mrs. Paul Shanahan’s 4-year-old Irish-bred filly Justaroundmidnight with jockey Florent Geroux getting the call for trainer Patrick Biancone. The daughter of Danehill Dancer posted a 26-to-1 upset to win the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) over the course on Jan. 9 against fillies and mares and was also nominated to the Suwannee River Saturday
Justaroundmidnight was making only the eighth start of her career that day after beginning in Ireland with five starts without a victory. She didn’t break her maiden until her sixth try making her American debut at Monmouth Park on June 13 last summer. In only one more start before the Marshua’s River she finished a troubled sixth in the Boiling Springs Stakes (G3) at Monmouth on June 26.
Another highly-regarded contender in the Gulfstream Turf that did not fare well in the Fort Lauderdale and coming back in Saturday’s race is Sullimar Stable’s 5-year-old homebred Get Stormy with jockey Javier Castellano named to ride for trainer Tom Bush. The son of Stormy Atlantic finished eighth after pressing the pace at odds of less than 3-to-1.
Get Stormy has won eight of 18 career starts with a streak of four straight tallies in 2009, including the Commonwealth Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, and was in top form last summer winning the Fourstardave Handicap (G2) and Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2) at Saratoga.
Winning the Fort Lauderdale by a neck in a mild upset at 13-to-1 was Priscilla Vaccarezza and partner’s 4-year-old gelding Little Mike for trainer Scott Lake, and he returns Saturday after a barn change to trainer Dale Romans. Jockey Joe Bravo will be aboard the son of Spanish Steps, who was highly-consistent racing through his conditions last season and has now won five of his last six starts.
Completing the field are Augustin Stable’s Smart Bid, Edgar Prado; Lewis Schaffel’s Sal the Barber, Cornelio Velasquez; Jules Boutelle’s Teaks North, Jose Valdivia, Jr.; and Peachtree Stable’s Twilight Meteor, Alex Solis.
Never Retreat & Miss World Clash in Suwannee River
Team Block’s 6-year-old mare widely-traveled Never Retreat ran a big race to finish third in the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) over the Gulfstream course on Jan. 9 and Waratah Thoroughbreds’ 5-year-old Miss World in a Grade 1 winner, and the two will be among the favorites in a field of 11 fillies and mares set for the $150,000 Suwannee River Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on turf Saturday.
Jockey Carlos H. Marquez, Jr. rides Never Retreat for trainer Chris Block after they teamed up to finish a strong third, beaten a length for it all in the Marshua’s River. The daughter of Smart Strike shipped around frequently last season, winning stakes at Fair Grounds, Canterbury Down and Kentucky Downs and just missed in another when second by a nose in the River Memories Stakes at Woodbine in late October.
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez rides Miss World for trainer Christophe Clement as she bids to regain the excellent form that saw her win three straight as a 3-year-old in 2009, including the Garden City Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. The daughter of Bernstein has run well but failed to win in her last three starts after a 10-month layoff, most recently checking in fourth in an allowance over the course on Jan. 12, beaten a length for it all.
Also certain to attract support in the Suwannee River is Alex Campbell, Jr.’s 4-year-old Kentucky homebred filly It’s Tea Time with Julien Leparoux in the saddle for trainer Rusty Arnold. The daughter of Dynaformer won two of four starts with a second on turf last year and captured the Lake Placid Stakes (G2) at Saratoga after that race was forced off turf.
It’s Tea Time makes her first start since finishing fourth behind Unrivaled Belle, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
Completing the field for the 64th running of the Suwannee River are Persuading, Cherokee Queen, Deputy Darling, Miss Blakesly, Musical Rain, Project Rain and Trix in the City. Toocleverforwords is entered run ‘main track only.’