Mitaab bin Abdullah's 4-year-old Fly Down was last seen under colors finishing third behind Blame and Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 despite a rough trip. The colt sets off on another campaign in Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) as the likely choice in the strongest field of older horses yet assembled in 2011 nationwide.
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 earlylast 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.
Jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard Fly Down in the Classic and retains the mount for trainer Nick Zito after they teamed up for DialedIn's stunning 3-year-old debut victory in last Sunday's Holy Bull Stakes (G3). The Classic closed out a very productive but frustrating season for Fly Down's connections as he finished a close-up second in both the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1).
Rule was beaten 1 1⁄2 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 1⁄4 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 withJohn 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 3⁄4 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 1⁄4 lengths and setting a track record for 6 1⁄2 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 3⁄4 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.
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