02/10/2014 11:23AM

Weekend Thoughts


Groupie Doll left the boys with a very tough act to follow Sunday at Gulfstream with her winning performance in the Hurricane Bertie. But Lea and Will Take Charge closed the show the way main acts are supposed to with huge efforts in the Donn Handicap.

I opined in this space last month, after he ran off with the Hal’s Hope in his first start for a new barn and first ever start on a fast dirt track, that Lea might be trainer Bill Mott’s replacement for Flat Out. But Lea might be more than just that. As big as Flat Out ran on several occasions, I’m not sure he ever ran as well as Lea did on Sunday. Yes, Lea had a good trip stalking the early pace, but because of his positional speed, it was a trip of his own making. The important thing is, after Lea broke the race open in upper stretch, the issue never was in doubt. And despite being taken in hand late (a reason why his win margin shrunk to 1 1-2 lengths), Lea still broke the track record, and left the remainder of the Donn field behind runner up Will Take Charge nothing but a distant memory.

Although he was only second best, Will Take Charge did not lose a thing in terms of stature. It’s a bit odd that while Will Take Charge won the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, and Clark during his championship campaign last year, the two best races he ever ran (in my view, anyway) were his seconds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and in the Donn. In any event, the Donn was Will Take Charge’s first ever start at Gulfstream and first outing since the Clark, meaning he figures to only improve off of it. Barring the unforeseen, there are many races this year in which Will Take Charge will be very, very hard to beat.

The big disappointment in the Donn was the empty showing by Revolutionary, which was not a surprise to those (including yours truly) who were less than impressed with his successful seasonal debut. There were those before the Donn who said Revolutionary’s last out win got a boost when runner up Falling Sky came back to win Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Sprint. But Falling Sky took a huge step forward Saturday. Just because he did, that didn’t guarantee Revolutionary would, which he had to do to even contend. He didn’t. However, the good news for Revolutionary fans is, it’s a long season, and there are more good races out there for older males than there are good males to fill those races out. It will be a failing of Revolutionary if he doesn’t win something good somewhere this year.

As for Groupie Doll, she was sensational coming from way back to win the Hurricane Bertie by the length of the stretch. It’s funny, for most of her 2013 campaign, including her repeat victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Groupie Doll didn’t seem anywhere near as sharp as she was in 2012. But her fourth against males in her season finale last fall in the Cigar Mile after substantial trouble was an excellent effort. And that, combined with what she did Sunday, well, it just seems a shame to take a machine like her out of service right now. I get the beauty of going out on top, but …

The Donn wasn’t the only Grade 1 race at Gulfstream Sunday. The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap was a Grade 1, too, but in official ranking only. The field was decidedly Grade 2 to 3 in caliber. Lochte’s 38-1 upset was as clear-cut as it was surprising. But the one I would want coming out of this race is runner up Imagining, who was simply way too far back early, and too wide.

On Saturday, perhaps the biggest news was the off-the-board finish at 1-5 by Game On Dude in Santa Anita’s San Antonio. It’s hard to tell if there was a physical issue that compromised Game On Dude’s performance, or if, at age 7, Father Time has finally caught up to this prolific stakes winner. But I know I certainly don’t understand why Game On Dude was out there banging heads on the lead with Blueskiesnrainbows through fast opening fractions of 22.75 and 46.26.

Yes, Game On Dude is a horse who likes operating on or near the early pace. But he has never been a need-the-lead-at-all-costs type of horse. On several occasions, Game On Dude has been extremely effective after conceding the early lead. It’s right there in his past performances. That’s why I found it a mystery to see him engaging in a needless early duel.

For those looking for silver linings, at least Game On Dude won the pace battle. He finished almost four lengths ahead of Blueskiesnrainbows.

And in a typical horseplayer whine, I liked Blingo last time out in the San Pasqual, and he barely lifted a hoof. He paid $33.80 without me Saturday.

Candy Boy gained a lot of fans after his win in the Robert B. Lewis, also run at Santa Anita, while Midnight Hawk’s bandwagon emptied a bit following his third place finish as the 6-5 favorite. I think that while Candy Boy ran well, he didn’t run quite as well as some would have you believe. Candy Boy had an absolutely perfect inside-out stalking trip, and he only prevailed by a half-length over Chitu, who did the dirty work forcing the pace. And though Midnight Hawk disappointed, I believe it’s way too early to write him off just yet. The Lewis was the first time Midnight Hawk was actually rated behind horses, and he became rank as a result. He also had a three- to four-wide trip, and lost by only 1 3-4 lengths. For what it’s worth, according to Trakus, Midnight Hawk raced 40 feet more than Candy Boy.

I admit I couldn’t have bet Falling Sky with counterfeit money in the Gulfstream Park Sprint, and I always give George Weaver-trained horses an extra look. But let’s give Falling Sky full credit. He was lights out, running away with the race after setting a fast pace under pressure.

The Gulfstream Park Sprint result almost completes what has been a subsequent success story for those who were unsuccessfully involved in the destructive early pace in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Palace Malice came back to win the Belmont and Jim Dandy, Oxbow came back to win the Preakness, Verrazano came back to win the Pegasus and Haskell, Goldencents later won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and Falling Sky is now 2 for 3 since the Derby. The only other pace players in last year’s Derby we’re waiting on are Itsmyluckyday, who did come back to finish second in the Preakness in his next start and who is on the comeback trail from injury, and Vyjack.