Lightly-raced Graydar flashed speed and proved his class in winning Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
The result can’t be regarded as a shocking development, but his three-length victory was nevertheless a remarkable achievement. Horses with only three races of experience just aren’t expected to run away from an impressive field of handicap stars in their stakes debuts in Grade 1 races.
Yet, that’s exactly what Graydar ($13.40) proceeded to do in a dominating, front-running performance in Gulfstream’s premier event for older horses.
“You see horses win Grade 1s early in their careers, like 2-year-olds, with not very many starts. But I’d say it’s extremely rare for a horse in his fourth lifetime start against seasoned horses like this to be able to do it,” Pletcher said. “It’s a real tribute to the horse.”
What Graydar lacked in experience, he certainly made up for with a demonstration of speed, talent and stamina under jockey Edgar Prado. When West Coast-based speedster Ultimate Eagle didn’t break sharply, Graydar took the lead that he held around the first turn and along the backstretch, setting solid fractions while chased by 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy and Csaba, a two-time stakes winner at the current meeting.
“He ran an enormous race. We weren’t really sure what the pace scenario was. We figured we’d be stalking (Ultimate Eagle). Edgar and I talked about it and figured that was Plan A. But the last thing I said leaving the paddock was ‘If it works about and you’re there, don’t take it away,’” Pletcher said. “He beat Ultimate Eagle to the turn and he sat off of us. (Graydar) was laying down serious race-horse fractions. It wasn’t like he was walking the dog. He got into a nice comfortable rhythm.”
Graydar continued to set an uncontested pace around the final turn and into the homestretch, where a lightly raced and seasoned horse might be expected to wilt against Grade 1 company. However, the Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ colorbearer more than held his own in a field that included four Grade 1 winners and drew away to victory.
“Anytime I asked him to pick it up he gave me more,” said Prado, who scored an entry-level allowance win aboard Graydar at Gulfstream on Dec. 6. “So I was very happy with him,”
While winning his third race in four starts, Graydar ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.25. Bourbon Courage rallied to finish second under Javier Castellano, five lengths ahead of Take Charge Indy and jockey John Velazquez.
Flat Out, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Joel Rosario, finished another neck back in fourth while carrying high weight of 121 pounds, six more than the winner.
Graydar earned $300,000 for his victorious stakes debut for his owners, who were a nose away from a visit to the winner’s circle in last year’s Donn Handicap.
“For these connections, we lost a tough head-bob with Mission Impazible in this race,” said Pletcher, recalling Mission Impazible’s heartbreaking defeat to late-charging Hymn Book last year. “It’s sweet to get one for them the next year.”
Graydar/Leslie Martin photo