Updated on 02/10/2015 10:09AM

Constitution turns back Lea, wires field in Donn Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Constitution wins the Donn Handicap by three-quarters pf aength Saturday at Gulfstream Park

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Constitution put an exclamation mark on another landmark day for his trainer, Todd Pletcher, when he held off defending champion Lea to register a three-quarter length victory in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Constitution gave Pletcher his second consecutive Grade 1 win on the card, following Mshawish’s game triumph in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Pletcher, a seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, also won the Grade 3 Suwannee River here with Sandiva and Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Withers with Far From Over.

Jockey Javier Castellano also had himself a memorable afternoon, winning four races on the card, including all three graded stakes for Pletcher.

Constitution, one of three horses Pletcher sent out in the 1 1/8-mile Donn, set all the pace after breaking alertly from the rail. The 2014 Florida Derby winner appeared a bit rank while drifting several paths off the fence in the run around the clubhouse turn, much as he did in his previous start, the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, 11 weeks earlier. But Castellano was able to guide him back to the rail once settling into the backstretch,

Constitution was well-held while pressed for the lead by stablemate Commissioner through early splits of 23.31 seconds, 47.29 and 1:11.19 for the opening six furlongs. Meanwhile, Lea sat poised right behind the leaders while saving ground to the stretch.

Constitution disposed of Commissioner leaving the final bend, at which point Lea tipped out to commence his bid. But Constitution had plenty left in the tank, holding off the 4-5 favorite to register his fourth victory in as many starts at Gulfstream.

Elnaawi rallied widest into the stretch and finished well down the center of the course to be third while never threatening the top pair, checking home another 4 ¼  lengths behind Lea.  He was followed, in order, by, Prayer for Relief, East Hall, Commissioner, Blue Tone, Catholic Cowboy, and Protonico who was eased through the stretch by jockey Joe Bravo. 

Constitution, a 4-year-old son of Tapit owned by the partnership of Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm, completed the distance over a fast track in 1:49.51 and paid $7.60.

“We got to the position we wanted him to be in,” said Pletcher. “Plan A was if he got a good start, which he doesn’t always do, we wanted to let him run to the first turn from the rail.”

Pletcher explained that he and Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager for WinStar, and talked to both John Velazquez, who rode Commissioner, and Castellano and told them “not to worry they were stablemates. We told them to ride your race to win, whatever position you’re in, and don’t worry about what the other was doing.”

Pletcher said having Constitution back at Gulfstream and the way he had been training at Palm Beach Downs gave him a lot of confidence coming into the Donn.

“Coming back to Gulfstream, a track he’s perfect on, we were optimistic but it was a very good field, including last year’s Donn winner, who had a very impressive prep over the track,” said Pletcher.

“But we were excited about it, and glad he ran to his training.”

Pletcher said he will discuss future plans for Constitution with his owners but noted “one of the reasons he didn’t run between the Clark and this race was because we wanted a fresh horse for the rest of the year.”

When asked about his big day, Pletcher said “We’re blessed. I thought last Sunday, when a lot of these horses breezed, we were holding a pretty strong hand coming in, and it worked out.”                                 

Bill Mott, who trains Lea, said he thought his horse ran well in defeat.

“We were inside and had to wait until the three-sixteenths to come out,” said Mott. “If he could have taken a run at that horse a little sooner maybe that would have changed it. But we had three-sixteenths of a mile to catch him, but he just didn’t do it.”