Updated on 09/16/2011 7:46AM

Duckhorn in Donn? Just prepping


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Though his primary objective for the meet is the $300,000, Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 30, Duckhorn could very well prep for that race in Saturday's Donn Handicap, trainer Patrick Byrne said.

Duckhorn, who defeated Lido Palace in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup last May, has not been out since July 21 when he finished third in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington. Duckhorn came out of that race with a chip in his ankle that was surgically removed.

One reason Byrne is considering Duckhorn for the Donn is "because the horse has trained exceptionally well," he said. "If he was doing just okay, we'd look for an allowance race."

Byrne said he is targeting the Gulfstream Park Handicap because he believes Duckhorn relishes the 1 1/4-mile distance of that race.

Byrne also said that he doesn't see a standout among the Donn contenders. Duckhorn was weighted at 113 pounds, five pounds less than expected starting highweight Graeme Hall.

"Forget the Grade 1 status, to go a mile and an eighth with these kind of horses is within his realm," Byrne said. "I won't make a decision until the first part of the week."

Byrne said he would consult with Demi O'Byrne, racing manager for Michael Tabor, the owner of Duckhorn.

The other possible starters for the Donn and their weights are Graeme Hall (118), Red Bullet (117), Best of the Rest (115), Kiss a Native (114), Free of Love (113), Hal's Hope (113), Mongoose (113), Ubiquity (113), Traditionally (112), Pleasant Divorce (112), and Keats (111).

Next step for Ethan Man

Byrne has a talented 3-year-old on his hands in Ethan Man, a son of Glitterman who easily handled a strong field of preliminary allowance rivals in Saturday's ninth race.

Ethan Man rated off the pace, then split rivals and drew off to his second victory in three career starts. He numbered Lecomte Stakes winner Easyfromthegitgo among his victims when he won at first asking last fall.

"He's a nice horse," Byrne said. "And he acts like a horse who'll go two turns. I'll look to stretch him out, probably to seven-eighths, next time. I was glad I brought him back at six furlongs because as deep as the track was today, you could hurt a horse sending them further than that the first time."

Asked if he had any Triple Crown aspirations with Ethan Man, Byrne said the Kentucky Derby might be a little too ambitious, but the Preakness is a possibility.

Best of the Rest on muscle

Best of the Rest, expected to run in the Donn, on Saturday worked a sharp half-mile timed in 47.40 seconds by trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. (credited as 48.60 by the track clockers) over a Calder surface seemingly unaffected by Friday's rain.

"It was faster than I wanted him to go, he just took off like a freight train," said Plesa. "He was more on the muscle than usual, but I think that's an indication of just how well he is doing. I got him galloping out five-eighths in 59.40. He's now had two outstanding works in a row and is coming into the race just like I'd want him to."

Best of the Rest was assigned 115 pounds for the Donn, four less than he carried to a nine-length victory over Hal's Hope in Calder's King Rex Handicap on Nov. 18.

Keats, also possible for the Donn, worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 at Payson Park on Saturday morning. Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said he would reserve his decision on whether to run Keats in the Donn until Sunday or Monday.

O'Callaghan was hoping for a generous weight concession from Graeme Hall and Red Bullet, and Keats is getting seven and six pounds from them, respectively. But O'Callaghan was not sure if that spread is enough to warrant going up against them.

"It's probably more realistic to run Keats in the Whirlaway [at Fair Grounds], especially since that race is a mile and one-sixteenth and the Donn is a mile and one-eighth, and I am a bit concerned if he can get the extra distance," said O'Callaghan. "But aside from the weights there are some other intangibles, including the fact my horse seems to love Gulfstream. He's already run two major races over the track and just seems more at home there than anywhere else."

O'Callaghan registered one of the major upsets of last year when Guided Tour, with a 10-pound weight concession, defeated Captain Steve in Churchill Downs's Grade 2 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Taking the low road

A couple of speedsters nominated to next Sunday's Deputy Minister Handicap, Beware Avalanche and Dancing Missile, will take a more conservative route when they meet in Monday's $40,000 feature, an optional claimer.

Beware Avalanche comes off his career-best effort, outgaming Dream Run and earning a 109 Beyer Speed Figure under similar conditions earlier in the meet. Dream Run came back to defeat a stakes-caliber allowance field.

Dancing Missile has not started since winning Turfway Park's Holiday Cheer Handicap on Dec. 29.

Left Bank has bruised foot

Left Bank, a multiple Grade 1 winner last year, is nursing a bruised foot that might force him to miss next month's Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship, trainer Todd Pletcher said.

"I don't know how long that is going to hold us back," Pletcher said. "I'd say he's 50-50 for the Sprint Championship. We backed off on him and when we started to get more serious we had this foot thing."

Left Bank won the Vosburgh in September and the Cigar Mile in November. Both are Grade 1 stakes. In between, he finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Pletcher said his major objective with Left Bank is the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on May 27. Pletcher said he would like to get at least one race into Left Bank prior to the Met, perhaps the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 13.

Waiting on works

While it was business as usual at Calder on Saturday morning, workers were few and far between just down the road at Gulfstream, where the racetrack was wet and heavy during training hours. The track condition prompted some trainers to postpone important works for the Donn and Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 16.

"I'm sick about it," said trainer Graham Motion, who had planned to work his Fountain of Youth contender Grey Beard five furlongs on Saturday. "Hopefully the track will be good enough to work him either Sunday or Monday. I'd hate to keep pushing it back any further than that. I'm pretty straightforward with my training, I like to breeze my horse a week or six days out from the race, but I'll just have to adjust things if the need arises."

* Alybgood, who won the Indian Maid Stakes last May at Hawthorne, has been retired and will be bred to Gone West, according to trainer Mary Jo Lohmeier. A daughter of Alydeed-Qui Bid, by Spectacular Bid, Alybgood had a record of 5-2-3 from 21 starts and earned $187,084 for owner Joe Lacombe.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch