03/07/2013 5:40PM

Oaklawn Park: Donoharm faces toughest foes yet in Razorback

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Donoharm will be taking on the toughest group of horses he has ever faced on Saturday when he attempts to win his sixth straight race in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park. The field of 10 for the 1 1/16-mile race includes Alternation, a millionaire making his first start since October, and Atigun, who ran third in last year’s Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Marathon. San Pablo, a six-time stakes winner, is in from Gulfstream for trainer Todd Pletcher while Cyber Secret adds further depth to the cast with his 2-for-2 record this meet at Oaklawn.

Donoharm has shown grit in a streak dating back to last August at Monmouth, when he took a $22,000 optional claimer. He proceeded to win a $32,000 optional claimer at Delaware Park, a restricted stakes at Delta Downs, then the first two route stakes for older horses at Oaklawn, the $75,000 Fifth Season by a neck in his 4-year-old debut in January, and the $100,000 Essex by three-quarters of a length over San Pablo in February.

“Obviously he’s in peak form right now,” said Bret Calhoun, who trains Donoharm for Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch. “He’s won six of his last seven, five in a row. I think it’s a tough transition from 3 to 4, you’re always concerned about running against older horses early in your 4-year-old year. He’s done amazing. He stepped up and made the transition and beat the older horses, and has faced the better older horses.”

Donoharm was gelded last year, and in his first start back was a seven-length winner of a $50,000 maiden claiming race at Churchill Downs in May. Calhoun said the procedure was a turning point for the horse while his determination has been the foundation for his streak.

“He just continues to bear down and lay it down,” said Calhoun. “He runs his heart out.

“This will definitely be the toughest test of his career. There’s a lot of top horses, [but] some of them are coming off layoffs. We might be catching some of them at the right time, hopefully. And he seems to be getting better and better. You just wonder, ‘How much better can he get?’ He’s stayed sharp and in good form all fall and winter. You hope you can run an even better race. I don’t know, but he seems like he’s awful good going into this race.”

Alternation has been working regularly at Oaklawn in preparation for his first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup. Last year he was a three-time winner in Hot Springs, among his wins the Razorback and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

“You always feel like, coming off a layoff, ‘Are you ready?’ ” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Alternation. “You’re a little apprehensive, all those things bouncing around in your head. In the end, we’ve got a nice horse and it’s a good race to get going.”

Atigun has the benefit of a start, having run third in a $75,000 optional claimer won by Cyber Secret on Feb. 15. The race was Atigun’s first since he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, a race in which he was favored last November at Santa Anita.

“It was a good, solid race,” trainer Ken McPeek said of Atigun’s comeback at Oaklawn. “He got a little tired the last sixteenth of a mile. I think having a race under his belt ought to make him even tougher in the next one. This next race will be a real good race for him.

“He seems to have transitioned well from 3 to 4. He’s done well, and I’m optimistic he’ll keep improving.”

Atigun, who is to be ridden by Victor Lebron, could also get decent fractions to close into, behind the rail-drawn Golden Ron, San Pablo, and the fresh Alternation.

“He’s a horse that needs a pace to set up for him,” said McPeek.