The Donn: Invasor not in a soft spot
by Handicappers (firstname.lastname@example.org) / Globeform (http://www.globeform.com)
Last update: 2007-02-02 14:16:47 (First published: 2007-01-29 18:03:18 )
Gulfstream Park 3 February: He may be a short priced betting choice, but Invasor is hardly going to find himself in a ’soft spot’ when making his comeback in the Donn Handicap (G1).
Racing over 9 furlongs, arguably on the sharp side for Kiaran McLaughlin’s star, could be vulnerable this time.
Magna Graduate, who came back to form in the Queens County Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct in December, runs for the Sciametta / Pletcher team. Add Chatain, a lightly raced 4-year-old coming off a course record win in the Hal’s Hope (G3), and Super Derby (G2) winner Strong Contender and, this is shaping up to be a good test for Invasor. Could he be beaten?
THE DONN HANDICAP (G1)
Gulfstream Park 3 February 2007 – 9 furlongs dirt
Runners ranked based on best Globeform ratings,
Top ranked horse on 100, with others ranked down in
Pounds (1 length = 2lbs). Horses listed with sire / rider
100 – INVASOR (Candy Stripes) F Jara
..96 – MAGNA GRADUATE (Honor Grades) J Velazquez
..91 – STRONG CONTENDER (Maria’s Mon)
..89 – CHATAIN (Forest Wildcat) C Velasquez
..87 – A. P. ARROW (A.P. Indy) K Desormeaux
..85 – HESANOLDSALT (Broad Brush) E Bejarano
..85 – HALOS SAILING SAIN (Halo’s Image) J Bravo
..85 – BARCOLA (Old Trieste) J Castellano
..82 – TAP DANCING MAUK (Louis Quatorze) E Nunez
Invasor will be a heavy favorite for this year’s Donn Handicap – and why hardly needs explaining. He was among the very best in the world last year, when improving steadily to a career best effort at Churchill Downs in November, when he beat Bernardini and Premium Tap in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). After sitting at the back of the field early on, the son of Candy Stripes worked his way up to a challenging position rounding the final bend. He still seemed to be running for second as they entered the straight, Bernardini had kicked clear and looked full of energy. Perhaps he was, but it was still not enough to deny Invasor. He came with a determined finish, to outstay Bernardini and win by a length. Premium Tap was 2 ½ lengths further back, beating Giacomo by a length for third while Brother Derek was fifth. Invasor produced Globeform 129+ with this win. Only Discreet Cat (GF 133+) was rated above him in 2006.
Breeders’ Cup day was Invasor’s first at the races for three months. That is an unusually long break when getting ready for the Classic, but Invasor is – and has always been – a horse who goes well fresh. He had been off for over five months when winning his first stakes race in Uruguay as a 3-year-old, where he won all his five starts, and he was impressive off a near two-month layoff when landing the 9.5-furlong Pimlico Special (G1) on his US debut in May. He put up a solid performance – taking the race by quite an easy 1 ¼ lengths from Wanderin Boy, after having raced close to the pace throughout. Wanderin Boy was coming off a wide margin win in the Bel Ali (G3) at Keeneland – and he went on to win next time out and later on he was a (distant) runner-up to Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). He was in fine form but had no chance with Invasor.
That was Invasor’s first of four straight wins in North America, and he has lost just once in a ten-race career. After taking the Pimlico, Invasor won the Suburban Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park on July 1, and most observers seemed to realise that he was a serious BC Classic contender. Although the opposition was not top class. The Suburban drew a seven-runner field and Invasor proved by far the best. He had a troubled start but was soon close to the pace, and he kicked clear in the straight to beat Wild Desert by 4 ¼ lengths. He was very strong at the finish and value for more than the official margin. This performance brought him up to GF 123+, and it seemed obvious that a real test of stamina would help him to an even higher mark.
Invasor confirmed his high class in the Whitney Handicap (G1) over 9 furlongs at Saratoga in August. He was much the best when gaining a nose-win over a late charging Sun King - who was receiving 3lbs from the winner. The pair drew 5 ¾ lengths clear of the third-placed horse, West Virginia, but this was still not quite as good form as Invasor’s win in the Suburban Handicap (G1). This win was not as easy but, despite being a photo finish winner, Invasor looked a class apart. His runner-up, Sun King, was coming off a second to Premium Tap in the Albert the Great at Belmont, and went on to run third to that same rival in the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga next time out.
We, and many with us, first came across Invasor on Dubai World Cup night in Dubai in March, when he contested the UAE Derby (G2) over 9 furlongs. There is no betting in Dubai but English bookmakers had the valuable event as a two-horse affair, with Simpatico Bribon going off at 13-8, ahead of the eventual winner, Discreet Cat at 2-1. Invasor went off at 16-1. He had been 7-1 when winning the 2005 Clasico Ensayo (G3) at Maromas on his second lifetime start, but in all other starts there he was odds-on. He was 6.7-1 in the Pimlico and, incidentally, returned exactly the same price at the Breeders’ Cup.
He ran about as well as the English oddsmakers had anticipated when fourth behind Discreet Cat at Nad Al Sheba. But that was probably no more than a coincidence. A totally unknown quantity, he was unbeaten in a ’small corner’ of the racing world – though also representing solid connections. Ridden by Richard Hills, Invasor raced in fifth early – in a strongly run race – and finished an even fourth, beaten 7 lengths.
Invasor, bred in Argentina, returned no more than GF 100+ in Dubai. His form in 2005 was probably better than that. The son of Candy Stripes won all his five races in Uruguay, where he was trained by Martin San Anibal to land the Ran Premio Nacional Derby (G1) by 6 ½ lengths from Potri Flash. The premier classic is staged over 2500 metres (about 12.5 furlongs) on dirt at Maronas, where he did all his racing. Invasor had previously won G1 events over a mile and 12 furlongs. It’s impossible for us to assess his 3yo form. Making it even more difficult is the fact that Porti Flash ran second to Invasor all his Grade Ones. It would have been better to have more formlines to compare. It was hardly a bad sign, however, as Potri Flash has been, and still is, competitive at the highest level in Uruguay. Which, of course, is a far cry from the highest level in the world, where Invasor is now operating.
Magna Graduate is the only horse who can give Invasor a fight – and the Sciametta / Pletcher trainee could actually be quite a big danger to the favorite. While Invasor’s connections are using the Donn as a starting point, to what will be a long season taking in more important races, beginning with the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March, those handling Magna Graduate will surely see this as a good opportunity of grabbing a Grade One. He is more likely to be fully tuned on Saturday, he is favored by the distance and he does receive 5lbs. He is a high class horse, though not in the same league as Invasor. Magna Graduate ran his best race to date last time out, however, and with a light campaign in 2006, improvement is not at all unlikely this year. Magna Graduate was a bitter disappointment in the Ack Ack (G3) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. He went into the race after a break since running fourth to Electrocutionist in the Dubai World Cup (G1), but there was a lot of confidence behind Magna Graduate on that November Saturday. He was a dull tenth behind It’s no Joke, who won in a good time. A combination of factors probably contributed to this poor result; he was on the wrong part of the track, he was in need of the race and, not to forget, he was eased in the closing stages.
The son of Honor Grades bounced right back in the Queens County Handicap (G3) over 9.5 furlongs at Aqueduct in December, when setting his own pace and running the opposition into the ground. Magna Graduate had the race won as he turned for home, and he came home a comfortable 6 ½-length winner over Papi Chullo, with the third placed Smart Growth over nine lengths further adrift. These are not G1 performers but they are no claimers either. Quite how badly could they have run? They both came to the Queens County in good shape. Papi Chullo, who had just won a decent allowance at the same venue, was fourth behind Premium Tap in last year’s Woodward Stakes (G1) – beaten 4 ¾ lengths at level weights. Smart Growth has never lined up against such competition, but he was coming off an easy win in the Stymie Stakes at Delaware – where he gave weight to the runner-up Confucius Say (a 9 ¼-length winner of a minor stakes in October).
So, as the Red Smith Handicap (G3) first and second, Naughty New Yorker and Anglina, were also a long way behind him – one has to conclude that Magna Graduate put up some performance at Aqueduct. He won the Clark Handicap (G2) over 9 furlongs at Churchill Downs in 2005, beating Suave and Perfect Drift, and the Donn distance suits him really well. Which may not be the case for Invasor, who is a horse strong on stamina. Sure, he won the Whitney Handicap (G1) over this trip, but his Breeders’ Cup win was markedly better.
If Invasor is a notch below his top form (very likely) and Magna Graduate finds a bit of improvement on his Queens County form (quite possible), then the latter has an excellent chance.
Let’s take a chance on Magna Graduate this time.
Chatain ran a race full of promise when making a winning comeback in the Hal’s Hope Handicap (G3) here in January, beating Sir Greeley by a head (while receiving weight), with Strong Contender back in fifth. Strong Contender was also back after a layoff, and found the mile trip too sharp. He should do better this time – but better than third seems unlikely for these contenders.
A: 7 MAGNA GRADUATE
B: 1 INVASOR
C: 4 CHATAIN, 9 STRONG CONTENDER
Gulfstream Park previews and selections will be posted Friday afternoon.
Santa Anita Strub day previews and selections will be posted Saturday morning.
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