Updated on 09/16/2011 6:48AM

Beating the Donn crowd

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Mongoose, with assistant trainer John Booker, is in best form of his career.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It takes a very good horse to win a Grade 1 race. To win Saturday's Grade 1 *, it will also take a little bit of luck.

A field of 14 older horses will start in the $500,000 Donn Handicap, which should assure a realistic pace and could create traffic problems in the wide-open lineup.

"The most important thing will be getting position around the first turn," said Todd Pletcher, who saddles 118-pound highweight Graeme Hall. "It's likely things will get pretty crowded into that turn, and if you're not careful you're apt to get hung out to dry or perhaps wind up further back in the pack then you'd like to be. Fortunately, my horse has good tactical speed, so hopefully he'll come out of the turn in good position."

Graeme Hall has not started since finishing second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 24, and the layoff is of some concern to Pletcher.

"Last year, he needed a race first time back," said Pletcher. "But he had been off from August until February, and this time he's only been away since November, so the break is not nearly as long. He's trained well, and I'm happy to see the track is not as deep as earlier in the meet when it seemed horses who'd had a race over the track might have an advantage."

Joe Orseno, who will send out likely favorite Red Bullet in the

1 1/8-mile Donn, concurred with Pletcher about the importance racing luck could play.

"I'd rather a big field than a small one, although 14 horses is a bit larger than I'd like," said Orseno. "In a small field, someone can set a slow pace that might affect the outcome. A full field usually makes for a truer race. Of course, any horse can have traffic problems in a big field, but that's why I use the best riders."

Jerry Bailey, who rode Red Bullet to a victory in the 2000 Preakness and more recently a second in the Skip Away, will be aboard again Saturday.

One horse who certainly deserves a little luck and is capable of springing an upset if getting a clean trip is Best of the Rest, whose career has repeatedly been slowed by injury. Now 7, Best of the Rest proved he is again on top of his game with a pair of easy stakes victories at Calder during the fall that earned him 106 and 109 Beyer Speed Figures. Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. has patiently waited several years for a chance to showcase Best of the Rest's talents on a national stage. That opportunity finally comes on Saturday.

Like Graeme Hall and Red Bullet, Best of the Rest prefers to do his running from just off the pace. And that pace figures to be an honest one with Duckhorn, Keats, Mongoose, Rize, and Ubiquity in the lineup.

Mongoose is in the best form of his career and enters the Donn off an easy victory over reigning Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos earlier in the meet. His stablemate Ubiquity makes his first start since posting a wire-to-wire win over Include in Churchill Downs's Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

Duckhorn upset Lido Palace in the Hawthorne Gold Cup last May. He has been idle since July 21 but is training for his return.

Hal's Hope and Traditionally, third and sixth respectively in the Skip Away, join Red Bullet as the other Grade 1 winners in the Donn. Hal's Hope has learned to rate his abundant speed and will attempt to rally from off the pace again Saturday. Traditionally, who set the pace and faltered over a tiring track in the Skip Away, won the 2001 Oaklawn Handicap from midpack and will have little choice but to employ a similar strategy after drawing post 14 for the Donn.

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