Updated on 09/17/2011 12:52PM

Upcoming Donn looking dandy


NEW YORK - So often these things never pan out. But if only this once the exciting prospect becomes a reality, then the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 7 will be a candidate for race of the year, regardless of what else happens in the rest of 2004.

That is because the Donn has the potential to include three of the marquee horses in training. The Donn is likely to attract Medaglia d'Oro - a major stakes winner last year on the West Coast, on the East Coast, and in the middle of the country - who was an excellent second in the Breeders' Cup Classic after contesting a strong pace. Medaglia d'Oro is likely to run in the Donn in his first start as a 5-year-old, rather than in the San Antonio at Santa Anita the week before, because at $500,000 the Donn is worth twice the money and is a Grade 1 race as opposed to the Grade 2 status of the San Antonio.

The Donn may also lure Congaree, a Grade 1 stakes winner last year at seven furlongs, a mile, and 1 1/4 miles, and in New York and California. Unfortunately, Congaree's status for the Donn has to be considered a little more uncertain. Without question, Congaree does his best running for jockey Jerry Bailey, but Bailey is going to stick with Medaglia d'Oro, just as he did in the Breeders' Cup Classic. So, it wouldn't surprise me if another race were found for Congaree, one in which Bailey would be available to ride him, although I hope I'm wrong.

And another big reason why the Donn could be so special is the way another of its top candidates, 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, returned to the races Saturday at Gulfstream Park. In his first start since finishing a distant ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Funny Cide recorded his first victory since the Preakness with a runaway score in an optional claiming race. No, Funny Cide was not entered to be claimed.

In the wake of Funny Cide's successful comeback, it might be a good idea to temper your reaction to his performance. It is important to remember that even though Funny Cide won by five lengths, the horse who chased him home, American Style, won only an optional claimer all of last year and had lost seven straight starts going into Saturday's race. And, he finished second, 7 1/2 lengths in front of the show horse, Wacky for Love, so this wasn't the 1973 Marlboro Cup that Funny Cide was winning.

Yes, the rail was not the place to be again at Gulfstream on Saturday, and Funny Cide did dispute the pace inside of opponents in a race so devoid of speed that the plodding middle-distance horse Justification was called in front a quarter-mile into the race. But even though Funny Cide raced inside of horses early, he was well off the rail.

And even though Funny Cide spread-eagled his field, his time for the seven furlongs of 1:22.83 didn't exactly make the teletimer go haywire. It was good enough to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of only 102.

However, before Funny Cide's intensely loyal fans get too angry with me for stating the facts, let me say that as prep races go, this was ideal. It had to meet every goal his connections could have had. He got a taste of competition again; his confidence could have only been helped because, let's face it, this was his first win in eight months; and he did not have to extend himself.

The real measure of where Funny Cide is, and where he may be going, will come next time he performs. The perfect illustration of what a good horse with a goal in front of him is capable of doing second time back can be found with what Pleasantly Perfect did last fall. Pleasantly Perfect returned from a long layoff to win in a moderate field in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap early last October, earning a modest Beyer Figure of 105. But the Goodwood was only a prep, and when he returned three weeks later in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Pleasantly Perfect was ready to take his game to a higher level. Indeed, he was up to producing a 119 Beyer in the Classic, and that was good enough for victory.

I would expect a similar degree of improvement from Funny Cide the next time he races. Barring bad racing luck, it's not unreasonable to expect him to raise his game to a Beyer level of around 116. If he does, there could be three horses together at the wire at the end of the Donn, considering what Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree are both capable of when fresh. If not, it will be fair to wonder how much of an impact Funny Cide will have on the top of his division this year.