Lea rolls to victory in Donn Handicap
Proving that last month’s victory in the Hal’s Hope Stakes wasn’t a fluke, Lea lowered Gulfstream Park’s 1 1/8-mile track record when he won Sunday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap with a powerful performance.
The 5-year-old horse was making his second graded stakes start on dirt, a surface he seems to prefer after spending the early part of his career racing mostly on turf.
Lea raced right behind Uncaptured in second for most of the early part of the race but took jockey Joel Rosario to the lead as the field entered the turn. It was obvious that the other horses would have their work cut out for them as Lea pulling away easily as the field worked its way into the stretch.
Last year’s champion 3-year-old male, Will Take Charge, attempted to mount a challenge, making strides toward catching Lea deep in the stretch, but he was only able to get within 1-1/4 lengths of the winner. Viramundo, a 44-to-1 longshot, filled out the trifecta by finishing third.
"The horse that was on the lead wasn't the one that I thought would be there but it turned out the be the same type of trip that we thought we might be able to get. It's always a different challenge when you move to the dirt. I felt he was capable but the competition was stiff and we were in against a champion. We were good enough to beat him today,” said Bill Mott, Lea’s trainer.
"I saw when (Will Take Charge) broke free and I knew he'd be running at us. We were good enough to scoot away from him. It's a long year and the big races are at the end of the year and there's a lot of good racing in between. Right now I'd love to point him for the Whitney at Saratoga."
The Donn is Lea’s first Grade 1 victory and places him among the leaders of the older male division early in 2014. Trained by Mott, this was Lea’s sixth win in 12 starts, with the First Samurai horse having graded stakes wins on both turf and dirt.
Lea is a homebred for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
Fittingly for this Olympic weekend, the race before the Donn Handicap had an Olympic theme when Lochte won the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap as the longest shot on the board.
Rated in third by jockey Orlando Bocachica behind Tetradrachm, Lochte took the lead in the stretch and won by 2-3/4 lengths over Imagining. The win was the third in four races for Lochte and came in his stakes debut.
“It’s like they say in football after you win the Super Bowl, ‘I want to go to Disneyland.’ I talked it over with the owner and we were taking our chance here,” said Marcus Vitali, Lochte’s trainer.
“His numbers were going up and up. Myself and my staff, we all felt really comfortable with the horse’s progress. The breeding shows he can get the job done. I didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t accomplish great things. I didn’t go into this expecting to come out on top but I surely hoped I would. Everything unfolded the right way, and here we are.”
Lochte was sold at the Fasig-Tipton October sale last year for $60,000, and more than paid back his purchase price with this Grade 1 victory, taking home the $180,000 winner’s share of the purse. The Medgalia d’Oro gelding is owned by Crossed Sabres Farm. Lochte’s second dam is a half-sister to Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair.
The Donn and Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap kicked off “The Jockey Club Tour" on Fox Sports 1 with the Dubai World Cup on March 29 next on the schedule.