Lea, who won the Hal's Hope at Gulfstream in January, is the closest you'll find to a speed horse in the field (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire).
“The Jockey Club Tour on Fox” gets rolling this Sunday at Gulfstream Park, where horses will meet for the 59th time to contest the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. With a fairly firm list of probable runners for the Donn, along with some historical data, let’s tackle the richest race for older horses at Gulfstream’s championship meet.
Trakus was launched at the Hallandale Beach facility to open it’s meeting in December 2011, and since then, 42 races have been contested at the Donn distance of 1 1/8 miles on dirt. In terms of ground coverage, 18 of the 42 winners (43%) covered the shortest, or second-shortest trip. Of those, nine led at every point of call, representing half of winners covering one of the two most efficient trips, and 21% of the overall races. In total, 12 of the 42 races (28%) were won in wire-to-wire fashion, with 2013 Donn winner Graydar one of those making all the running.
The 1 1/8-mile trip has not been kind to horses settling well off the pace. Over these 42 races since the 2011-2012 meeting opened, only six (14%) of the winners came from more than four lengths off the leader after the first half-mile, and only two (5%) came from more than five lengths adrift. The biggest closer was Parent’s Honor in the 2012 Claiming Crown Jewel, flying home from 10 ¾ lengths off a frenetic early gallop, settling behind a :45.91 opening half-mile. That race played host to the fastest pace of any of the 42 races in the sample, with Mucho Macho Man’s January win in the Sunshine Millions Classic having the next fastest half-mile in :46.25.
Pace makes the race, surely, but there is no avoiding Gulfstream’s very kind turns. The oval is a thick one, heavy on turns and short on straightaways. The run from the top of the stretch to the second finish line, used in all races bar those at 1 1/16 miles, is less than 900 feet, making it one of the shortest in use at American dirt tracks of at least a mile in circumference. A short stretch and a two-turn race at 1 1/8 miles suggests that there is more racing around turns at Gulfstream. By consequence, there are more opportunities to lose ground as well. More on that below.
Here are the projected starters for this year’s Donn Handicap, according to track reports and a Saturday column from the Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch:
Bourbon Courage (Trainer: Kellyn Gorder)
Joshua’s Comprise (Trainer: Barry Rose)
Lea (Trainer: Bill Mott)
Neck ‘n Neck (Trainer: Ian Wilkes)
Revolutionary (Trainer: Todd Pletcher)
River Seven (Trainer: Nicholas Gonzalez)
Romansh (Trainer: Tom Albertrani)
Uncaptured (Trainer: Mark Casse)
Will Take Charge (Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas)
One very clear detail emerged reviewing the form of the Donn probables: there is no true pacesetter in the bunch. Bill Mott trainee Lea, winner of the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope by more than three lengths in his last start, is the closest you will find to a speed horse. Just a half-length off Csaba, the leader through the first half of his previous race, Lea inched closer and drew away at a juicy 6-1. Romansh has never been more than three lengths off the pace in his four two-turn races and seems another likely to go close.
Bar his run in the Pennsylvania Derby, when the rail was believed to be a superb spot, Will Take Charge almost always covers extra ground given his running style. While it might not be a fairly defined style given their differing levels of career success, but the same could be said for both Uncaptured and Neck ‘n Neck, whose running lines are peppered with what could easily be mistaken for incomplete algebraic equations (5w, 6w, 3-4w). Solve for “w.”
In the 42-race sample of Trakus-tracked races at Gulfstream, only five winners (12%) covered the widest or second-widest trip in their respective races. Stable mailers will take note that one of those was Jan. 8 maiden winner Tonalist, a 3-year-old (read: “Kentucky Derby eligible”) son of Tapit who broke on the rail but angled out wide on the far turn. The Christophe Clement-trainee was also one of the six horses in the sample who won from four or more lengths behind after the opening half mile. Hymn Book, winner of the 2012 Donn, was one of the wide-racing winners, also.
On average, the winners from the races analyzed by Trakus at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream cover the shortest trip of any finishing position, checking-in at 6,016 feet. Those winners cover approximately 0.75 lengths less than the next most efficient finishers.
The posts are still to be drawn, the jockeys assigned, and prognosticating beckons. If the data from the race is noteworthy, we’ll be back next week to review. Good luck and enjoy “The Jockey Club Tour on Fox”!