02/03/2016 2:56PM

Valid taking Grade 1 shot in Donn

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Barbara D. Livingston
A multiple graded stakes winner, Valid will try to add a Grade 1 stakes to his resume in the Donn.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The lineup for Saturday’s Grade 1 Donn Handicap has pretty much been a foregone conclusion for the past week. The only real question was where trainer Marcus Vitali would run the multiple graded stakes winner Valid, whom he’d also nominated to Saturday’s Grade 3 Fred Hooper, a race he won here a year ago.

Vitali waited until shortly after noon Eastern on Wednesday, just hours before entries were drawn, before finally choosing the 1 1/8-mile Donn over the one-mile Fred Hooper for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is that he firmly believes Valid has a legitimate chance to win the race.

“To me, this looks like a pretty good opportunity for our horse to finally become a Grade 1 winner,” said Vitali. “And you can’t say he hasn’t earned that opportunity. I also think he’s actually better going a mile and one-eighth than he is a mile. At least that’s what the numbers say, if I’m doing my math right, and I think I am.”

The Donn will be Valid’s second chance to win a Grade 1 race. His first came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in October at Keeneland, where he finished fifth behind the winner, Liam’s Map. Valid is coming off a neck setback at the hands of Mshawish here in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope in his 2016 debut. Mshawish also is back for the Donn.

“I think Mshawish may be the horse to beat in the Donn, and he just beat us by a neck last month, so why wouldn’t we want to try this race?” said Vitali. “And the only other real speed in the field is Financial Modeling, who is coming off a win in a $100,000 stakes.”

Javier Castellano was Vitali’s first choice to ride Valid in the Donn. Castellano won the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes when paired with Valid for the first time in December. But with Castellano already committed to Mshawish, Vitali will turn to Nik Juarez, who rode Valid to victory last summer at Monmouth Park in the Grade 3 Iselin.

The last-minute addition of Valid, who will carry 117 pounds, swelled the Donn field to eight, with Keen Ice the highweight under 121 pounds. The remainder of the field is: Itsaknockout (118), Mshawish (117), Madefromlucky (116), Financial Modeling (115), Mexikoma (115), and Closing Bell (114).

◗ A field of eight also will contest the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Saturday, topped by 122 pound highweight The Pizza Man. He’ll be heavily favored against Lukes Alley (117), All Included (116), Legendary (116), Shining Copper (116), Takeover Target (116), Triple Threat (116), and Eh Cumpari (114).

The Pizza Man was scheduled to arrive here Thursday afternoon.

◗ Eight also was the magic number when entries closed for the Hooper, with Saraguero a last-minute addition to a lineup that also includes Ami’s Flatter, Grande Shores, Just Call Kenny, Morning Calm, Wildcat Red, and the Todd Pletcher pair of Tommy Macho and Stanford.

◗ Saturday’s 13-race program, which begins at 12:05 p.m. Eastern, features three additional stakes, all on the grass: the Suwannee River, the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, and the Ladies Turf Sprint.