Mshawish aiming to give Pletcher fourth Donn in seven years
Leading the brigade is Mshawish, who has demonstrated enough versatility of late to make a run at this prize rather than defend his title in Saturday's Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1). A three-time stakes winner on the local turf last meet, Mshawish went on to finish third behind European star miler Solow in the Dubai Turf (G1) last March.
A solid fourth over testing ground in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) in October, Mshawish occupied the same slot in the Cigar Mile (G1) in his first try on dirt, and last time edged returning rival Valid in the Hal's Hope (G3) over a one-turn mile on this track.
"It would be a big win for him in terms of a potential stud career in terms that he's already a Grade 1 stakes winner on turf and a graded-stakes winner on dirt," Pletcher said. "A Grade 1 would mean a lot to his potential stud career."
Owned by Al Shaqab Racing, Mshawish is a six-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro and will be ridden in the Donn by John Velazquez.
Pletcher's other two entries are Madefromlucky and Itsaknockout. Winner of the Peter Pan (G2) and West Virginia Derby (G2) last season, Madefromlucky was runner-up in the Discovery H. (G3) and $100,000 Harlan's Holiday in his last two starts. Itsaknockout, elevated to first in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last February, exits a third-level allowance win over a mile on December 31.
"I was very impressed with his first race back and even more impressed with the way he's training," said Pletcher of Itsaknockout. "He acts like he's coming into the race in career form. He's always been a nice horse. He's training at a different level this year."
Looking to steal the Donn is Valid, who missed by a neck to Mshawish in the Hal's Hope. The six-year-old gelding owns six wins in 12 Gulfstream starts, and lasted nine furlongs to take the Philip H. Iselin (G3) at Monmouth last summer. However, this track might not prove to be quite as speed favoring as the Monmouth strip.
Keen Ice, conqueror of American Pharoah in last year's Travers (G1), is using the Donn as a prep for next month's Dubai World Cup (G1), a 1 1/4-mile race likely to be more up his alley than the 1 1/8-mile Donn.
"The setup -- there's a lot of it that goes against him. But he's coming into it in such good shape," trainer Dale Romans said "He's going to run a big race."
Entering the Donn off peak performances are Financial Modeling, winner of the $100,000 Queens County at Aqueduct by four lengths in his stakes debut December 15 and a possible pace presser, and Mexikoma, who steps up in class following a victory in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Classic against Florida-breds last month.
The field is rounded out by Grade 1-placed turf stakes winner Closing Bell, who won his only start on dirt against maiden foes last May.
Earlier in the card, eight older horses will go a mile in the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper (G3), a race won last year by Valid. Pletcher holds a solid pair for the Hooper, too, with Discovery winner and Queen County runner-up Tommy Macho, and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Stanford.
Ami's Flatter, third in the Florida Derby (G1) last year, enters off a solid four-length allowance win going seven furlongs, while former Fountain of Youth winner Wildcat Red appears poised for a solid effort following a second in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint. The field of eight also includes Grande Shores, second by a neck in the 2015 Hooper and third in the Hal's Hope last time.
(Mshawish: Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography)
(Keen Ice: Lauren King/Adam Coglianese Photography)