01/15/2013 2:22PM

Gulfstream Park: Donn could attract top four from Hal's Hope

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Courtney Heeney
Csaba (right) wins the Hal's Hope, with Pants On Fire (left) third and pacesetter Good Morning Diva, in between horses, fading to fifth.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Phil Gleaves said he would likely point Csaba to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here Feb. 9 following his game victory in Sunday’s Hal’s Hope. When he gets to the Donn starting gate, he’s likely to see a lot of familiar faces.

In light of the close finish of the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, with only a couple of necks and a head separating the top four finishers, it is possible all four could return in the Donn.

Trainer Mark Casse said going into the Hal’s Hope that he was using the race as a Donn prep for runner-up Pool Play, believing the one-mile distance was a little too short for his horse. As things turned out, it was just a few feet too short. Pool Play’s closing surge from near the rear of the field fell just a neck shy of earning him the victory.

Kelly Breen said he was extremely pleased with Pants On Fire’s third-place finish under Paco Lopez in the Hal’s Hope, considering it was his first start since an eventful journey as the odds-on favorite in the Delta Mile eight weeks earlier and only his second since late May. Despite the loss, Pants On Fire matched his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 98, also earned this summer for his victory in Monmouth Park’s Skip Away.

“I thought he ran dynamite,” Breen said. “I felt going in he might come up a little bit short, but he ran well. He got hung out a little wide; they were running fast. I don’t think Paco had too much of a choice to make his move when he did, and he had every right to get a little bit tired. The Donn is certainly possible. We’ll take one step at a time; see how he comes out of the race.”

Another option for Pants On Fire would be a race at Fair Grounds, Breen said. Pants On Fire registered his most important victory at Fair Grounds, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin also was delighted with Soldat’s fourth-place finish under Javier Castellano on Sunday. Soldat made a big run while four wide to join the leaders into the stretch but could not quite sustain the bid down the lane. Soldat had raced on turf in his two previous races.

“I was very pleased,” McLaughlin said. “It was an educated guess to try him back on the dirt, and he ran great. He just was awfully wide, but I don’t blame Javier for it, that’s just the way the race unfolded. For a moment there on the turn, the way he was moving, I thought he was going to win by five. We’ll probably look at the Donn Handicap and see how he’s doing.”

Awaiting the top four finishers from the Hal’s Hope in the Donn will be Flat Out, winner of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2012. Flat Out finished fifth in last year’s Donn. He has not started since checking home a wide-running third behind Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.