Mott Saddles Lea To Victory In $500,000 Donn Handicap
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL -- Nearly two decades ago, trainer Bill Mott won back-to-back Donn Handicaps with Cigar, who put his ordinary turf form behind him and became a main-track revelation. It's too soon to tell whether Lea can attain those heights, but the 5-year-old put up a track-record setting performance under the lights at Gulfstream Park and denied champion Will Take Charge in today's 59th running of the $500,000 Donn.
Sent off at 5-1, Lea broke alertly and settled into second as longshot Uncaptured made the early running. Lea took over after a half-mile in :47.21 and traveled strongly under Joel Rosario through the far turn. Will Take Charge had been trapped inside for most of the race, but shifted to the outside entering the stretch and set his sights on Lea. Rosario handled the 5-year-old confidently and hit the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front of the betting favorite. Lea, a son of First Samurai, stopped the clock in 1:46.86, besting the previous track mark of 1:47.49 established by Quality Road in the 2010 Donn.
It was 9 1/4 lengths back to Viramundo in third.
"I knew turning for home the kind of horse he is," Rosario said. "He just never quit running, so I was very happy turning for home. I never worried about Will Take Charge coming from behind. It was all the horse. He did it so easy. The fact that he broke the track record doesn't surprise me."
Previously based with trainer Al Stall Jr., Lea was transferred to Mott's barn in November to pursue Gulfstream's program for older horses. He scratched out of the El Prado Stakes in December after drawing a wide post on the turf course and took up an engagement in the $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream on January 11. Lea scored by 3 1/4 lengths in that one-mile test under Luis Saez, and was reunited with Rosario for the first time since winning an allowance at Saratoga in 2012.
"The horse that was on the lead wasn't the one that I thought would be there, but it turned out the be the same type of trip that we thought we might be able to get," Mott commented. "It's always a different challenge when you move to the dirt. I felt he was capable, but the competition was stiff and we were in against a champion. We were good enough to beat him today.
"I saw when (Will Take Charge) broke free and I knew he'd be running at us," Mott added. "We were good enough to scoot away from him. It's a long year and the big races are at the end of the year, and there's a lot of good racing in between. Right now I'd love to point him for the Whitney at Saratoga."
Cigar swept the Donn in 1995 and 1996 as part of his 16-race winning streak.
"If you're going to win 14 in a row, you have to start with two," Mott quipped when asked if Lea could match that achievement.
Lea races in the colors of his breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
"Whenever you have a horse with Bill Mott, you know they're going to run well," co-owner Dell Hancock said. "For him to run like that--it's exciting. (Bill) and Walker (Hancock) talked about it and said his numbers were really good on the dirt, so here we are. He's a homebred and he's the mare's first foal, and First Samurai stands at the farm, of course."
Lea has now won six of 12 career starts, and the $300,000 winner's share of the Donn purse took his bankroll to $709,618.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas was philosophical about Will Take Charge's effort.
"We got blocked for a bit and couldn't get out, so we couldn't move as quickly as we wanted to," Lukas explained. "That's just horse racing. We also didn't have a race over the track, which turned out to be a disadvantage. They had to set a new track record to beat us, so that's all you need to know. Kudos to the winner."
Third-choice Revolutionary was unhurried early as expected, but failed to mount a bid and finished seventh.
“The horse just never really fired," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "We were back pretty far, which we anticipated we might be. (Jockey) Javier (Castellano) said he was reacting to the dirt hitting him and he kind of pulled him out down the backside. It’s probably the wrong kind of surface for him. It’s such a speed-favoring surface right now and he’s a horse that’s deep closer, so it was probably the wrong setup, wrong surface. We’ll regroup and give him a little time and figure out something.”