02/09/2012 3:54PM

Gulfstream: Triple Crown race winners face off in Donn

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ruler On Ice ran third in the Haskell and Breeders’ Cup Classic after his upset Belmont victory.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to Gulfstream Park, the tendency is to think only about 3-year-olds and the road so many have taken from south Florida into the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle over the years. And while there may be a Derby prospect or two on Saturday’s outstanding 12-race card at Gulfstream, the focus here, for a change, will be on older horses, primarily the deep and talented group ready to knock heads in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

The $500,000 Donn will share top billing on Saturday’s program along with a second Grade 1 race for older runners, the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. The card will also feature the Grade 2 Hutcheson, a potential Derby prep for Ever So Lucky and five other aspiring 3-year-olds, as well as the Grade 3 Suwannee River for older fillies and mares on the turf.

A field of 11 was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile Donn that includes two of last year’s three Triple Crown race winners: Shackleford (Preakness) and Ruler On Ice (Belmont). The last time anybody can recall two reigning Triple Crown race winners meeting in any race at Gulfstream was when Sunday Silence and Easy Goer knocked heads in the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Donn field also includes Grade 1 winner and starting highweight Flat Out; the undefeated Trickmeister; multiple Grade 2 winner Mission Impazible, Grade 3 winners Redeemed, Where’s Sterling, and Soaring Empire; and the multiple Grade 1 placed Al Khali, who was also cross-entered and is more likely to run in the G P Turf. Shackleford began his 3-year-old campaign winning a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park and continued full steam for the remainder of the season. A son of Forestry, Shackleford burst into the national spotlight with his game second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He then sandwiched a fourth-place finish in the Derby and a fifth in the Belmont around his game half-length triumph over Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the Preakness.

Shackleford would not win again the remainder of the year but did finish second in the Grade 1 Haskell, second in the Indiana Derby and second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He was also voted one of three finalists for an Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division.

Shackleford got a brief break after the Breeders’ Cup but has been training well for his return, with a series of five local works highlighted by a 58-second-and-change beauty on Jan. 20.

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“Everything looks good, we’re ready to go,” said trainer Dale Romans. “He’s doing super. Obviously this is a tough field, but we’re not looking to duck anybody now. Ultimately my goal is to get him back to a mile and one quarter again this year.”

Ruler On Ice added blinkers and burst out of relative obscurity to upset the Belmont over a sloppy track. Like Shackleford, he was winless during the second half of his 3-year-old campaign but turned in big performances when he ran third in the Haskell, second in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He has not started since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Clark on Nov. 25.

Rosie Napravnik will replace the injured Garrett Gomez as jockey in the Donn.

“He’s going into the race well,” said Kelly Breen, who trains Ruler On Ice for owners George and Lori Hall. “In fact he’s been too sharp, which is not usually the case with him and the reason I tried slowing down some of his workouts. Obviously a wet track won’t bother me a little bit.”

Trickmeister has won all five of his starts, including the Harlan’s Holiday overnight stakes here in December. The Donn will be the first time Trickmeister, who has never been headed at any call, has ever run in a graded stakes. “He’s never faced horses like this before, but it looks to me like he belongs,” said Richard Dutrow Jr. who will also send out Redeemed as part of an uncoupled entry in the Donn. “I was delighted with his first run and he’s done well since. It wasn’t too fast a race. It didn’t take anything out of him coming off the layoff, and there should be plenty of room to move forward.”

Dutrow was also not reticent to discuss his strategy for Trickmeister.

“He’s never been headed in any of his previous races, and I don’t see any reason to change anything now,” said Dutrow.

Redeemed has trained extremely well since closing out his 2012 campaign with an easy 2 1/4-length victory in Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Discovery.

“Every race has been a good race for him. He’s training like clockwork and looks ready to run a big one,” said Dutrow.

Flat Out may be the starting highweight and a Grade 1 winner, but he is liable to be overlooked in the wagering coming off a series of disappointing efforts that includes a fifth-place finish as the tepid choice in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a last-place finish in his turf debut here last month in the Ft. Lauderdale.

“Throw out the turf race, I just needed to get a race in him before the Donn,” said trainer Scooter Dickey. “And a wet track certainly won’t bother us.”

Mission Impazible may also fly under the radar a bit even though he has won two Grade 2 races and is trained by Todd Pletcher.

“He’s just missed the big ones a couple of times, and if he runs his best race on Saturday he’s got a chance,” said Pletcher.