02/05/2011 7:53PM

Giant Oak closes strong to win Donn Handicap

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Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park
Giant Oak, winning last weekend's Donn Handicap, may use the Oaklawn Handicap as a stepping-stone to the Stephen Foster in June at Churchill Downs.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Giant Oak, whose career had consisted of a series of close calls and near misses in graded stakes until he was placed first via disqualification in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in his 2010 finale, finally won a big one outright when rallying to a two-length victory over a dead-game Morning Line in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Giant Oak, a 5-year-old homebred son of Giant’s Causeway, was graded stakes placed three times at 3 and on four other occasions in 2010 before finally breaking through in the Clark to get a Grade 1 victory after Successful Dan was disqualified for interference.

In the Donn, Giant Oak was rated well off the crisp early pace set by Morning Line and Square Eddie, the pair cutting out fractions of 23.36 seconds, 46.73, and 1:10.50 for the opening six furlongs over a fast track. Morning Line survived that battle and was good enough to repulse bids from both Rule and I Want Revenge through early stretch before proving no match for Giant Oak, who finished full of run down the middle of the track to overtake the leaders in the final 40 yards.
Morning Line bravely held on to be second, a nose in front of Rule. I Want Revenge finished another half-length further back in fourth. Fly Down, the 5-2 favorite, was never a factor, checking home fifth in a field of nine.

Giant Oak paid $16.80 after completing the distance in 1:48.23. The victory pushed his lifetime earnings to over $1.25 million.

“We sent him out to the farm in Ocala for a break after the race at Churchill Downs and decided if we were going to target another Grade 1, the Donn should be what we look for,” trainer Chris Block said. “We gave him three weeks off, and he’s done really well since coming down here. He’s really matured and gotten better with age as his lineage would suggest. I could see a big change in his mind and body since midway through his 4-year-old season.”

Block said he has no definite plans for Giant Oak’s next start.

“I’ll sit down and talk it over with the owners,” Block said. “The subject of going to Dubai has been brought up, but I’m just not familiar enough with the process to make that decision right now. It’s got to make sense for us to take him to Dubai. We’ll see who else is going in there. I don’t want to jump into too deep water.”