01/10/2011 2:49PM

Gulfstream stakes runners-up have big season ahead

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rule will likely point for the Donn, said trainer Todd Pletcher.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Both Rule and Leave of Absence finished second in their 2011 debuts on Saturday, with Rule a runner-up to Soaring Empire in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and Leave of Absence no match for upset winner Determinato in the Spectacular Bid. But their respective trainers, Todd Pletcher and Rick Violette, were each more than satisfied with their horse’s performance and are eagerly looking ahead to more important engagements later this winter.

Rule, making his first start since finishing third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby 10 months earlier, had a little early trouble, then took a run at Soaring Empire through midstretch before weakening slightly at the end of the one-mile Hal’s Hope.

“It was a tough spot to come back in off a layoff like that, but he ran well and hopefully will move forward off the effort,” Pletcher said of Rule. “Assuming he trains accordingly, the Donn would be our next option.”

The Grade 1 Donn will be run here at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 5.

Leave of Absence broke a bit flat-footed and was brushed slightly leaving the gate of the six-furlong Spectacular Bid. He raced near the back of the pack during the early stages and finished best of all down the center of the track. The start was just the third for Leave of Absence, who won his maiden with a 94 Beyer Speed Figure in his 2-year-old finale.

“This was a race to confirm his quality and I think he did just that,” said Violette. “If he had won, that would have been terrific, but to see him make up significant ground over a speed-favoring racetrack was pretty impressive. Especially since the jock had to pretty much chase after him all the way. When a horse is asked to go that far that long and are taken out of their comfort zone by not getting to chance to cruise along for a while, they’ll usually blow up and fade. Instead he was coming on at the end.”

Violette said he has a number of options for Leave of Absence’s next start, including the Holy Bull or an allowance race here, or the Sam Davis at Tampa next month.

Leave of Absence is one of a quartet of promising 3-year-olds Violette has stabled at Palm Meadows, along with Read the Contract, Rescind the Trade, and Sovereign Default.

Read the Contract, a New York-bred, bled in his debut but bounced back to run off the screen winning his maiden at Aqueduct while earning a 98 Beyer Figure in late November.

Rescind the Trade has won his only two starts, including a one mile and 70-yard entry-level allowance race at Aqueduct on Dec. 19.

“Read the Contract will probably start Saturday in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa,” said Violette. “Rescind the Trade won his last around two turns, but I’m likely going to reluctantly turn him back to a mile for the Holy Bull.”

Sovereign Default posted a 94 Beyer winning his only start, which came in July.

“He’s probably two breezes away from a race,” Violette said. “I’ll find an allowance for him once he’s ready to run.”