Updated on 09/16/2011 6:41AM

Best of the Rest gets clean bill of health for Donn

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. could breathe just a little easier on Friday after watching Best of the Rest work five furlongs over his home base at Calder to remain on target for

the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 9.

Best of the Rest bruised a foot while finishing a disappointing fourth in Calder's Fred W. Hooper Handicap on Dec. 29, then suffered some filling in his hind ankle when banging a stall wall several days later. But despite the minor setbacks Plesa never felt his star's appearance in the Donn was in jeopardy.

"In my heart of hearts I was convinced he was fine although I was concerned because you never really know for sure how they're doing until you work them," said Plesa, who clocked Best of the Rest in 1:02.20. Track clockers officially timed Best of the Rest in 1:12 for six furlongs.

Best of the Rest, who has a history of knee problems, registered impressive victories in Calder's Spend a Buck and King Rex handicaps before failing as the 3-5 favorite in the Hooper.

"He probably hurt his foot in the race and he was a little aggressive and anxious when caught between horses during the early stages of the Hooper," said Plesa. "But I haven't lost any confidence in him because he got beat. It just wasn't his day."

Plesa said he will work Best of the Rest back one mile work either Friday or Saturday.

"Once I get him to the races I kind of let him coast a little between starts because of his past history of being so fragile," said Plesa. "But I can't afford to coast, he can't be just 98 per cent for a race like the Donn. He's got to be 100 percent so I'm going to push him a little harder for his next work."

Velez back on North East Bound

There had been 19 turf races decided here through Thursday. None of them had been won by a horse on the lead. The horse coming closest to accomplishing the feat was North East Bound, who was beaten in the final strides by Pisces after contesting all the pace under Pat Day in the Appleton Handicap on Jan. 5.

North East Bound will try his luck again next Saturday in the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale Handicap. This time, regular rider Jose Velez Jr. will be back in the saddle.

"Switching back to Jose is no reflection on Pat," said trainer Bill Perry. "I thought he rode a flawless race in the Appleton. It's just that this has always been Jose's mount. He missed the Appleton because of prior commitments in New York that afternoon."

Despite North East Bound's close loss in the Appleton, Perry was heartened by the performance, which came on the heels of several disappointing efforts to close out the horse's 2001 campaign.

"I really was happy to see him bounce back like that," said Perry. "Especially over a course which has really been hard on front-runners all meet.

"Obviously I have no control over how the track plays although hopefully it will change a little by next Saturday," said Perry. "We'll see how the race shapes up before deciding on what strategy to employ."

Macho Uno arrives

Macho Uno*, the 2-year-old champion of 2000, arrived at trainer Joe Orseno's Gulfstream barn Thursday afternoon and is about four to six weeks away from returning to the races. On Wednesday, Macho Uno breezed three furlongs in 38 seconds on owner Frank Stronach's farm in Ocala, Fla., before shipping south.

"He looks fantastic," Orseno said Friday morning. "I sent him to the track today and watched him gallop and he looks super. I don't have anything picked out for him just yet. I got to think I'm four to six weeks away. I'll probably run him one time here, get a race into him, and then go wherever."

After winning the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Macho Uno missed the first half of his 3-year-old season with nagging problems, primarily his ankles. He ran four times as a 3-year-old, finishing second in a Saratoga allowance race, winning the Pennsylvania Derby, and finishing third in the Ohio Derby before a fourth-place finish behind Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Orseno said he plans to keep Macho Uno and Red Bullet separated throughout the year. Red Bullet, who finished second in last Saturday's Skip Away Handicap, is being pointed to the Donn Handicap on Feb. 9.

"I can't remember the last time I had Macho and Bullet in the barn together and they were both healthy," Orseno said. "That's why you see me smiling so much."

Batique to go in De La Rose

Batique, who has won graded stakes in her last two starts, will run back in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 De La Rose Handicap, trainer Michael Matz said.

Batique, a 6-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, is coming off victories in the My Charmer at Calder and the Honey Fox Handicap at Gulfstream. She will be bred later this year to Rahy, but Batique's recent hot streak has prompted her clients to extend her career a little longer.

"I was originally thinking of skipping the De La Rose, but she came out of the Honey Fox so well and it's another five weeks to the Suwannee River [on March 13]," Matz said. "She's definitely going to be bred this year. She's good right now. If it does rain for the De La Rose, I'll wait for the Suwannee River."

Batique was to work Saturday at Palm Beach Downs, but Matz wasn't looking for her to do much. "She doesn't need much. She came out of that race better than she came out of the My Charmer," Matz said.

Others pointing to the De La Rose are Musical, My Sweet Westly, Snow Dance, Unbridled Vice, Veil of Avalon, and Windsong.

Final Table returns in style

Final Table, winner of the Comet Stakes at The Meadowlands as a 2-year-old, made a strong 3-year-old debut on Thursday, taking a second-level allowance race by six lengths.

Final Table, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Allen's Prospect, was making his first start since Oct. 13, when he finished a well-beaten fifth as the 4-5 favorite in the Maryland Million Nursery. Hennig, who purchased the colt out of last February's 2-year-old-in-training sales at Calder for $75,000, felt the colt needed a rest.

"It looked like he was going over the top and it looked like he was trying to grow some and he did," Hennig said. "You forget the stress they go through going through the

2-year-old-in-training-sales."

In Thursday's race, Final Race set a strong pace of 22.40 seconds and 45.51 and drew clear when set down by jockey John Velazquez. He covered the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.74.

"I was real pleased with the way he finished," Hennig said. "He hadn't finished that well in his earlier races."

Hennig said he has no illusions of pointing Final Table down the Triple Crown trail.

"I think six or seven furlongs is what he wants to do," Hennig said.

* Blissful Kiss worked six furlongs in 1:12 at Calder on Friday and is among the candidates for next Sunday's $100,000 Forward Gal Stakes. The seven-furlong dash is expected to rematch arch-rivals A New Twist and Forest Heiress, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Old Hat Stakes earlier in the meet.

* Jockey Abel Castellano Jr., thrown when Decaf crashed into the temporary rail while on the lead in Thursday's finale on the turf, escaped serious injury and rode both his scheduled mounts on Friday's card.

- additional reporting by David Grening

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