03/23/2010 12:00AM

Deona proving a solid hunch for Vitali

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - One rarely claims a horse off a trainer sporting a success rate of nearly 40 percent and winds up smiling. But that's been the case, at least thus far, for trainer Marcus Vitali and the new owners of Deona, who claimed the filly for $10,000 from trainer Nick Canani earlier this winter and find themselves with one of the favorites in Thursday's $48,000, six-furlong allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

Vitali claimed Deona in the name of owners Wilby Langdon and Mary Beth Reis out of the filly's 4-year-old debut, which she won by nearly a dozen lengths on Jan. 13. The Beyer Speed Figure of 90 she earned that day is tops of any of the seven fillies in Thursday's main event. The victory was also the third in a row for Deona, who was perfect in three tries after being transferred to Canani's barn and returning from a 15-month layoff last summer in Chicago.

Deona has made just one start for her new connections, finishing second as the 6-5 favorite against $10,000 starter allowance company on Feb. 7.

"I took her kind of on a hunch," said Vitali, who is sporting a solid 20-percent success rate at this meet. "Her numbers were good, and she came from good connections who'd given her more than a year off, so I figured they must have thought something of her. I was looking for starter horses, and she also had her one-other-than allowance condition, so I felt the filly had some value."

Vitali's biggest problem lately with Deona has been getting her into a race.

"I've been trying to get her back in the $10,000 starter going short, but the race hasn't gone, so I decided to try her in this one-other-than," Vitali explained.

Like Deona, Heroic Pursuit and Ain't Love Grand also do their best on or near the lead.

Heroic Pursuit opened her career with a sensational 16-length maiden win last November at Philadelphia Park for trainer Michael Lerman, then finished second and third in two subsequent allowance tries.

Ain't Love Grand was claimed for $30,000 out of her turf debut on March 4 by owner William Schettine and trainer Rick Sacco Jr. That race was her first start in over four months.

Girl Can Rock could prove the main beneficiary of all the speed in the lineup, turning back to six furlongs off a steady diet of longer races.