Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge's 2011 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Shackleford and Lori and George Hall's 2011 Belmont Stakes (G1) hero Ruler On Ice will be the likely favorites in a very deep field of 11 older horses entered for Saturday's 54th edition of the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park.
The Donn will be one of four graded stakes races on Saturday's program. The afternoon will also include the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1), $150,000 Hutcheson (G2) and $150,000 Suwannee River (G3).
Regular jockey J.L. Castanon will be aboard Shackleford for trainer Dale Romans as the chestnut colt makes his first start since a game runner-up finish behind Caleb's Posse in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. Shackleford was beaten a head finishing second to Dialed In after carrying a two-length lead past the eighth pole in the Florida Derby (G1) here in early April.
“He hasn't missed a beat (in preparation for his return).” said Romans last Saturday after his final breeze. “He hasn't missed a beat in his life. It's nature. He's just tough. He's always been a big strong, good training colt.”
Shackleford finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last spring behind Animal Kingdom before beating that rival by a half-length in a thrilling renewal of the Preakness at Pimlico.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik flies in from New Orleans to ride Ruler On Ice for trainer Kelly Breen for the first time with regular jockey Garrett Gomez sidelined with an injury. The chestnut gelding by Roman Ruler is best known for posting a 25-to-1 upset in the Belmont Stakes after passing the Derby and Preakness.
Napravnik and Breen teamed up early last year for the victory of the Halls' Pants On Fire in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
Ruler On Ice ran a big race to finish third behind Drosselmeyer and Game On Dude in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in early November. His connections decided to make a late season bid for a chance at divisional honors running in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill in late November, but finished fifth.
“We thought he might have a chance to be 3-year-old champion if he won that race, but he came out of the race with a little lung infection that took a while to clean out. He's doing great now,” said Breen recently of Ruler On Ice's performance in the Clark. “We're looking for a good transition from his three to four-year-old season.”
The two Triple Crown race winners will get their share of attention, but there will be solid support for both of two accomplished stakes winners trainer by Rick Dutrow as he sends out Pegasus Holding Group and IEAH Stable's undefeated 5-year-old Trickmeister with leading Gulfstream jockey Javier Castellano aboard and Jay Em Ess Stable's 4-year-old Redeemed ridden by Edgar Prado
Trickmeister will have an edge over some of the leading players in the Donn in that he has had a race over the track with a wire-to-wire victory in the Harlan's Holiday Stakes going 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 17. However, that race was the first for the son of Proud Citizen in 16 months going back to an 11-length victory in the Pleasant Colony overnight stakes at Saratoga in late August of 2010 when posting his fourth victory.
Redeemed is highly consistent with an 8-5-2-1 record, completing his 2011 season with victories in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown in October and Discovery Handicap (G3) going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct on Nov., 19. The son of Include broke his maiden here early last year in his second career start.
The talented cast for the Donn also includes Twin Oak Stable's 5-year-old Mission Impazable and Preston Farm's 6-year-old Flat Out, second and third, respectively, in the Clark Handicap. Jockey Javier Castellano rides Mission Impazible for trainer Todd Pletcher. The roan/gray son of Unbridled's Song won the New Orleans Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds in late March and finished second by a neck in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill in June.
Flat Out was a potential Horse of the Year candidate for trainer Scooter Dickey after winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont on Oct. 1 and was made the tepid favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), finishing a respectable fifth, beaten three lengths for it all. Jockey Alex Solis will be aboard as they bid to bounce back from a dull try on turf in the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G3) here on Jan. 14.
Completing the field for the Donn are Stuiart Janney III's Hymn Book, John Velazquez; Godolphin Racing's Sangaree, Rajiv Maragh; Frank Calabrese's Where's Sterling, Jose Lezcano; and Brous Stable and Wchtel Stable's Al Khali, Alan Garcia. Trainer Bill Mott has Al Khali double-entered into the $300,000 Gulfstream Turf Handicap (G1) as well. The son of has Medaglia d'Oro made 20 of 26 of his career starts on turf. Al Khali last raced on dirt finishing sixth in the Peter OPan Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on May 9, 2009.
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