Edited Gulfstream Park release:
Trainer Todd Pletcher is pointing a pair of Grade I winners to the first major race for older horses in the country, detailing plans to send both Florida Derby winner Constitution and Arkansas Derby victor Danza to the Grade I, $500,000 Donn Handicap on February 7 at Gulfstream Park.
Owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm, Constitution won the first three starts of his career including the Grade I Florida Derby in his stakes debut. He emerged from the race with a shin fracture and did not race again until finishing fourth in an optional claiming allowance on October 12 at Belmont Park.
In his most recent effort, the 3-year-old Tapit colt was third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths, in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs November 28 under three-time defending Gulfstream leading rider Javier Castellano.
“Javier was very comfortable with the way he handled the first turn (in the Clark),” Pletcher said. “Javier felt like he was more relaxed than I did watching it, but down the backside he settled pretty well and I thought he ran a big race. He’s just getting back into form. It was only his second start since the Florida Derby and only his fifth lifetime start.”
“Right now, Constitution is pointing for the Donn. The question is, do we run him in between,” Pletcher continued. “I don’t know yet. We might just train him up to the Donn. He came out of his last race very well. We know he likes Gulfstream, and I think this track will carry him a little more than Churchill Downs sometimes does.”
Danza, meanwhile, has not raced since running a strong third in the Kentucky Derby, only three lengths behind eventual dual classic winner California Chrome. The sophomore son of Street Boss shocked the Arkansas Derby at odds of 41-1, coming out of a third-place finish in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream.
“He came out of the Derby and he was wiped out,” Pletcher said. “He broke out in a skin disease from head to toe and lost some weight, and we decided to just stop on him and point for the Donn and work our way back. We’ll see.”
Among his promising juveniles, Pletcher said undefeated Grade I Hopeful winner Competitive Edge is training with his string at Palm Beach Downs while Grade I Breeders’ Futurity winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Carpe Diem and Champagne winner Daredevil are both on the farm at WinStar.
“I’ll talk to (WinStar president) Elliott (Walden) next week and kind of knock out a schedule for them,” Pletcher said.
Multiple graded stakes winner Samraat is also among the sophomores from this year’s Triple Crown season currently in Florida working towards a comeback. The winner of the Grade III Withers and Gotham Stakes this past winter has not raced since undergoing surgery on July 25 to repair a fractured right shin injured while training for a start in Saratoga’s Grade II Jim Dandy.
Samraat won the first five starts of his career, three of them stakes, before running second to Wicked Strong in the Grade I Wood Memorial in April. The New York-bred son of Noble Causeway was fifth by less than five lengths in the Kentucky Derby, just a nose behind Wicked Strong in fourth, before ending up sixth in the Belmont Stakes.
“He’s doing good,”trainer Rick Violette said. “He’s been jogging for about a month and he galloped for the first time (November 29). He’s terrific. It’s a relief and it’s also exciting because the 3-year-olds were the best of the class this year. They were the first six finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I think it’s a stellar division, and he was certainly among the elite there. I’m quite happy with him.”
With no formal plan in place, Violette said he will let Samraat dictate when he is ready to get his 4-year-old season under way.
“There’s no real hurry,” he said. “I could have had him back maybe 30 days earlier, but I didn’t want to have him ready in January with kind of no place to go. February, March, we’ll see how he’s doing. We’ll nominate for a bunch of spots and we’ll see what the right starting point is.”