02/03/2007 1:00AM

Invasor overcomes trouble for impressive Donn win

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Invasor starts defense of his Horse of the Year title with a dramatic two-length victory in the Donn.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – In a performance more than worthy of his status as the reigning Horse of the Year, Invasor overcame a near-disastrous trip to register a heart-stopping two-length victory over Hesanoldsalt in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap. The Grade 1 Donn capped an outstanding day of racing at Gulfstream Park that featured five other graded stakes and included an impressive victory by leading Kentucky Derby prospect Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Invasor, who won all four of his starts in the United States in 2006, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was allowed to settle almost 10 lengths off the pace of Barcola during the early stages of the 1 1/8-mile Donn. Invasor began his rally under

jockey Fernando Jara while saving ground leaving the backstretch but had to take up abruptly when he ran up on the tiring leaders and briefly clipped heels with Barcola entering the stretch.

With Invasor bottled up, Chatain and Hesanoldsalt made their moves, battling for the lead nearing eighth pole as Invasor scrambled to get back on stride. Once he did, Invasor found room along the rail to launch another rally, ultimately surging by the top pair inside the sixteenth pole to win going away.

Hesanoldsalt circled four wide to gain a short advantage from Chatain near midstretch in early stretch, then fought on gamely to best A.P. Arrow by a head to finish second. Chatain weakened gradually and finished another half-length farther back in fourth. They were followed by Halo’s Sailing Sain, Tap Dancing Mauk, Barcola, and Magna Graduate.

“I was worried when he came up along the inside near the half-mile pole, because I knew nobody was going to open the door for him,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains the champ for Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable. “Fernando did a great job to get through like he did, and Invasor showed what a superior horse he is. To overcome what he did and win this race today proved just what a special horse he is.”

Invasor covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.43 over a fast track and paid $2.80.

McLaughlin said Invasor would stay at the Palm Meadows training center until around March 15 before shipping to Dubai for his first major goal this year, the Dubai World Cup on March 31.

* Strong Contender was scratched from the Donn lineup earlier in the day by trainer John Ward. According to Ward, Strong Contender did not appear to be doing well Saturday morning and that tests would be conducted to determine the extent of his problem.