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Giant Oak Has Break-Through Win In Donn
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Giant Oak slipped through the back door to grab his Grade 1 credentials, but the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway broke down the door Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Giant Oak ($16.80), who was placed first in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last fall when first-place finisher Successful Dan was disqualified for interfering with third-place finisher Redding Colliery, earned his Grade 1 stripes with a dominating two-length victory in the $500,000 Donn Handicap.
“I had a good feeling going into the race,” trainer Chris Block said. “I’ve never seen him get up into the bridle the way he did today.”
The always-talented, sometimes frustrating Illinois-bred horse was reserved off a solid pace contested by California shipper Square Eddie on the outside and Morning Line along the inside. After vying for the lead through fractions of : 23 1/5, :46 3/5 and 1:10 2/5 for the first six furlongs, Square Eddie and Morning Line were joined by Rule and I Want Revenge to form a four-horse wall on the turn into the homestretch.
As Square Eddie faded out of the picture, Morning Line fought valiantly under John Velazquez to hold off Rule and I Want Revenge in the stretch. However, the Nick Zito-trained 4-year-old was no match for the far-outside stretch drive of Giant Oak, who had been reserved well off the early pace under a patient Shaun Bridgmohan. The stretch-running veteran ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:46 1/5. Rule, ridden by Javier Castellano, finished third, a nose behind Morning Line and a half-length ahead of I Want Revenge.
“There was plenty of speed in the race so I was able to sit back and ride a patient race,” said Bridgmohan, who traveled from Fair Grounds in New Orleans to ride Giant Oak. “He’s just really growing up. He’s come such a long way. It’s so good to see, because he’s always had a ton of ability and I’m happy that’s he’s finally getting to show that.”
Saturday’s triumph was the first time Giant Oak finished first on a main track since he broke his maiden in a four-horse race at Arlington Park on Sept. 18, 2008. In addition to his Clark success via disqualification, Giant Oak won two turf races, one in his debut and the other in the Arlington Classic. Although he hasn’t been a frequent visitor to the winner’s circle, he has been a strong factor in graded-stakes company for three years.
“He’s a Giant’s Causeway and I think he’s just gotten better with age and maturation as that line seems to do,” said Block of Virginia Tarra’s homebred horse. “He trained very well over the track and seemed to like the change of scenery.”
The victory, worth $300,000, boosted Giant Oak’s bankroll to $1.25 million. His trainer said he would take under consideration a start in the Dubai World Cup next month.
Nick Zito-trained Morning Line, the 3-1 second betting choice, proved to be particularly game to hold second after being pressured throughout the Donn.
“I was hoping the other horse [Square Eddie] would go to the lead so I could set up right outside of him, but he never cleared. So I had to stay in there and keep my position at the rail. I had to defend my spot,” Velazquez lamented. “After that, he ran a heck of a race. I just wish I had a better post position.”
Morning Line’s stablemate, Fly Down, the 5-2 favorite ridden by Julien Leparoux, was never a factor in a fifth-place finish, 3-1/4 lengths behind I Want Revenge.