Hymn Book powers to his first Grade 1 score
Saturday’s four-race stakes program at Gulfstream Park had a little something for everyone.
Trainer Todd Pletcher saddled his 3,000th career winner; Thunder Moccasin, a promising 3-year-old colt by Florida sire A.P. Warrior, stormed onto the scene with a rousing victory in the Hutcheson Stakes (G2); Two grays—Snow Top Mountain and Hit It Rich—proved best in the Suwannee River Stakes (G3); Hymn Book stole the spotlight in the Donn Handicap (G1); and millionaire veteran Get Stormy made his first start of the year a winning one in closing out the stakes action in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1).
The 56th running of the Donn Handicap, the first major race for older horses on the 2012 racing calendar, attracted a strong field of 11, including Shackleford, winner of last year’s Preakness Stakes (G1) and Ruler On Ice, victorious in last year’s Belmont Stakes.
But at the end of the 1 1/8-mile journey, it was Hymn Book, Stuart Janney’s homebred son of Arch, who proved best on the day for trainer Shug McGaughey. Hymn Book, benefitting from a perfectly-timed ride from John Velazquez, collared Mission Impazible inside the sixteenth pole, overcame some bumping with Where’s Sterling when Mission Impazible veered out slightly in the stretch and prevailed by the narrowest of margins. Mission Impazible, who snuck through an opening along the rail at the head of the lane, finished second, Redeemed was third and Where’s Sterling wound up fourth.
Hymn Book completed the distance in 1:49.16.
“When I pulled him out, he came running,” said winning jockey, John Velazquez, who rode four winners, including Thunder Moccasin, on Saturday’s card. “He put up a good fight down the stretch.”
The Donn was the first Grade 1 win for Hymn Book, who finished second in the Cigar Mile (G1) last November at Aqueduct.
“Right after he ran so well in the Cigar Mile I started thinking about this race for him, although I didn’t know it would come up this strong,” said McGaughey. “This was a good field. We were concerned about the post position (10 of 11) and he kind of got caught out there on the first turn, but then got a good position down the backstretch. Johnny (Velazquez) has always had a lot of confidence in him going back to when he was second to Flat Out in the Suburban. He trained great for this race since he got down here and looked good blowing out. We’re New York people and naturally will want a fresh horse for the big races up there later this year, but the Oaklawn Handicap (April 14) is one option we might consider before that.”
Mission Impazible looked like a winner at the eighth pole after slipping through an opening along the rail turning for home.
“That was a nasty beat,” said Pletcher. “The horse ran super and ran a very professional race. He sat inside the pocket and it’s as good as he’s ever run. He got emboldened when that horse (Hymn Book) headed him and came back and one jump past the wire he had his nose back in front.”
Shackleford, who was making his first start since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), closely stalked the early pace set Trickmeister before fading to seventh.
“He settled nice and wasn’t aggressive, which is what we wanted,” said Jesus Castanon, the regular rider for the Dale Roman’s trained 4-year-old. “When I pulled the trigger, he just didn’t give me that run he usually does.”
Ruler On Ice was never a factor while finishing eighth under Rosie Napravnik in his 2012 debut, which was contested on a drying-out “good” track.
“He was spinning his wheels a little bit, like he didn’t really handle the track,” said trainer Kelly Breen, whose colt captured the Belmont on a sloppy track. “It wasn’t the slop we were hoping for, but he’s raced good on a fast track before…He went through the motions a little bit and that’s it.”
Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park/Coglianese photo