Why we shouldn't overlook Lea in the older male division

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

February 10th, 2015

Racing fans were naturally enthralled by the show put on by Shared Belief and California Chrome in last Saturday's $500,000 San Antonio at Santa Anita. The showdown most of us had hoped for last November in the Breeders' Cup Classic went off without incident this time, and Shared Belief has proven without question to be the better horse of the two for the time being.

Not long before the San Antonio, Constitution continued to show his affinity for Gulfstream Park with a wire-to-wire victory in the $500,000 Donn Handicap. Last year's Florida Derby winner is now perfect in four starts over that surface, but has not had as many opportunities to distinguish himself outside the confines of that Miami-area track.

That could change as soon as next month as Constitution is now under consideration for the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan, a race confirmed as being on California Chrome's schedule as well. The two never got to meet last season after Constitution missed the classics due to injury, so it will be interesting to see how Todd Pletcher's colt matches up with the reigning Horse of the Year.

It bears repeating that this year's group of older horses on dirt has the potential to be something special. In addition to the aforementioned trio, we still have the likes of four-year-olds Bayern, Tonalist and Wicked Strong to look forward to as the season progresses.

As amazing as the four-year-old class is, one horse not to be overlooked in the division is the six-year-old Lea, who fell a bit short Saturday of winning the Donn for the second consecutive year.

Making only his second start since winning the 2014 Donn, Lea ran a very strong race in defeat. Though pressured a bit down the backside, Constitution was not taxed into setting very fast splits. In the stretch, Constitution was able to open up while Lea angled off the inside for clear running room. Lea's late surge, hindered slightly by Constitution's drifting out inside the final sixteenth, fell three-quarters of a lengths short.

Like Constitution, Lea has been a tough nut to crack at Gulfstream. All four of his 2014-15 starts have occurred at the track, and he has two Hal's Hopes to go with his win and second in the past two editions of the Donn. After concentrating on grass earlier in his career, Lea now has a record of 6-4-1-0 on dirt.

After Lea contracted a virus and endured other setbacks following his win in the 2014 Donn, trainer Bill Mott chose to start fresh in 2015 rather than rush him back into competition. Despite the loss in the Donn, it appears that patience has paid off and will continue to do so.

An effective miler and nine-furlong horse, Lea has loads of options available to him later in the season. Of course, staying healthy is the key for Lea and all of the division's main players, and that has been tall order for a number of years now.

A four-year-old class presently headed by Shared Belief is rightly in the forefront of our shop talk, but a healthy Lea might prove to be a formidable long-term foe to them all.

(Photo of Lea: Adam Coglianese Photography)