By Steve Davidowitz | Wet track conditions can have an impact on the way in which a race is run — and won. Case in point: last weekend’s $500,000 Donn Handicap, a Grade-1, at 1-1/8 miles for 4-year-olds and up atGulfstream Park. Although the rain-soaked main track was listed as GOOD, it produced at least one bad performance.
As I saw the race, there were six live looking contenders, all of whom had legit credentials for the event, all with decent to very good wet track form. In my preview of the race last Friday, I said that a trap was being set for horseplayers: The simple fact is that very few races at any level will develop where so many prominent contenders will fire their best races. In fact, the reverse usually is true. Most of the best looking contenders in a crowded field will NOT fire their best. Some will turn in clunkers, or beat each other into submission.
Do you know about Bovada’s Weekly Racebook Rewards?
Get cash back just for playing at Bovada.
So here is what happened:
One of the six — HYMN BROOK — a steadily improving, most versatile horse with solid form on turf, on dry and wet tracks, won the race by a nose in a three-horse photo finish after a strong and very wide, desperate rally from a congested pack. This, despite having endured a serious bump from fourth place finisher WHERE’S STERLING. Meanwhile, the other five “contenders” I listed in my preview ran fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and 11th.
The two betting favorites — SHACKLEFORD ($3.00-$1) and previously undefeated TRICKMEISTER ($3.90-$1) — did duel each other into submission after duking it out for the first seven furlongs. As it turned out, the hotly contested pace probably was the most important aspect of this contest. At the wire, front running Trickmeister finished sixth and Shackleford, seventh.
FLAT OUT ($7.20-$1), now six years old and trying to recover his 2011 form, had the pace in his favor. But after making a mild move around the far turn into the upper stretch, he had no real rally while finishing fifth, about 4-1/2 lengths from the three-horse photo finish. At the bottom line, this performance might have tipped us all off to the fact that Flat Out could be done at this level. Does he deserve one more try? Yes. Of course he deserves another chance, but not with my money.
Eighth place finisher RULER ON ICE ($9.90-$1), who demonstrated in the 2011 Belmont Stakes that he loves a wet track, failed to take advantage of the pace scenario or the track conditions on Saturday and proved the point with his eighth place finish that not all of the horses who look to fit the race so well will run well. Frankly, an empty performance like this should probably be disregarded when it is by a consistent horse such as Ruler On Ice, who previously had finished in the money in nine of his last 10 races with one fourth. He certainly has run well in Grade-1 and Grade-2 stakes and is the kind of horse who frequently goes to the post at inflated odds. Given all of that, Ruler On Ice will deserve a close look when and if he is spotted in similar or slightly weaker company at another track. My guess is he simply did not like the Gulfstream surface one bit.
SOARING EMPIRE ($25.60-$1), a two time winner with two seconds in six lifetime races at Gulfstream, was never close and finished dead last in 11th place 44 lengths behind the top three involved in the tight photo finish. In case you are wondering, 44 lengths is 13 lengths more than Secretariat’s incredible 31 length victory margin in his historic 1973 Belmont Stakes run. Obviously, Soaring Empire was not himself, or something physical went wrong with him that will need attention.
As for the two horses who gave Hymn Brook such a fight: MISSION IMPAZIBLE ($8.90-$1), is no slouch, having earned more than $1 million as a 3-year-old in 2010 and as a 4-year-old in 2011. While he occasionally has run below expectations, his worst form has come on wet tracks… so go figure.
Third, two noses behind Hymn Brook was REDEEMED ($8.60-$1), a somewhat lightly raced 4-year-old who came into the Donn with five wins, two seconds and a third in his eight lifetime starts. These included two good stakes wins in Oklahoma and New York to close out his 2011 campaign last fall. While clearly a horse on the make and extremely well bred to handle wet footing, this was Redeemed’s first attempt on any rain soaked surface. I guess we found out by his solid effort here that he — just like the winner Hymn Brook — continues on the upgrade and will be a horse to be reckoned with wherever trainer Rick Dutrow decides to send him.
Added Notes: Two other results on the Saturday Gulfstream Park card deserve some mention…
GET STORMY won the Grade-1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, which was left on the grass despite the rain. Get Stormy now has won 11 of 26 career starts, all on grass courses from one end of the country to the other. This time, the 5-year-old horse (by Stormy Atlantic and trained by Tom Bush and ridden by Ramon Dominguez) won this nine furlong, $300,000 event wire to wire under a top weight of 121 pounds.
THUNDER MOCCASIN, a winner of his career debut at Gulfstream on Dec. 24, 2011 with a strong 97 Beyer Speed Figure, scored a clear cut victory in the 7 furlong Hutcheson Stakes. The performance suggests that we will see this grandson of A.P. Indy in longer, richer and more important Graded stakes on the Triple Crown chase. The win also reaffirmed the belief that trainer Todd Pletcher is loaded this year with Triple Crown prospects as his horses ALGORITHMS, EL PADRINO and GEMOLOGIST are also considered among the best of this year’s 3-year-olds.
The Action Never Stops. Bet The Derby Prep Races.