HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Al Shaqab Racing’s Mshawish is scheduled for an attempt to establish himself among the rarest of Thoroughbreds Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1).
Should the Todd Pletcher-trained 6-year-old succeed in prevailing over seven rivals, including two stablemates and Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice, he would join the elite group of Thoroughbreds that have captured Grade 1 victories on both turf and dirt.
A year ago, the son of Medaglia d’Oro established himself among the premier turf specialists when he surged late to post a victory in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1). Pletcher had the option to enter Mshawish for a title defense in Saturday’s $350,000 Gulfstream Turf, one of six stakes worth $1.25 million in purses, but opted to give the versatile Kentucky-bred a chance to distinguish himself as a prime-time performer on dirt as well as turf.
“It would be a big win for him in terms of a potential stud career in terms that he’s already a Grade 1 stakes winner on turf and a graded-stakes winner on dirt,” said Pletcher, the defending 12-time Championship Meet training titlist. “A Grade1 would mean a lot to his potential stud career.
Mshawish, who prepped for the Gulfstream Turf last season with triumphs in the El Prado Stakes and the Fort Lauderdale (G2) on grass, made his first dirt start in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct Nov. 28 after finishing a wide fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile G1) at Keeneland. Having shown promise by finishing fourth in the Cigar Mile after contending into deep stretch, Mshawish was given another main-track opportunity in the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Jan. 9. He broke through with a hard-fought victory by a neck following a heated stretch duel with multiple-graded stakes winner Valid.
His success on dirt convinced Pletcher to give him the chance to earn Grade 1 credentials on dirt in the Donn, the historic 1 1/8-mile handicap in which he has been assigned four pounds less than 121-pound highweight Keen Ice.
“I loved to see him have that win on the dirt,” said Pletcher, who has named Hall of Famer John Velazquez to ride Mshawish. “He’s a very impressive horse to watch train. He’s continued to do that and has shown his versatility. He’s a nice horse.”
Scheduled to run next in Dubai March 26, Mshawish could run in either the Dubai World Cup (G1) on dirt or the Dubai Turf (G1), depending on his Donn performance.
Set to challenge Mshawish are stablemates Starlight Racing’s Itsaknockout and Cheyenne Stables and Mac Nichol’s Madefromlucky.
Itsaknockout, who won the Fountain of Youth (G2) via the disqualification of Upstart, returned from an eight-month layoff with an eye-catching 4 ¾-length triumph in a Gulfstream optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Dec. 31.
“I was very impressed with his first race back and even more impressed with the way he’s training. He acts like he’s coming into the race in career form,” said Pletcher, whose 4-year-old trainee will be ridden by Luis Saez. “He’s always been a nice horse. He’s training at a different level this year.”
Madefromlucky, who won twice at Gulfstream last season before going on to capture the Peter Pan (G2) at Belmont and the West Virginia Derby (G2) at Mountaineer Park, finished second, beaten by less than a length by Valid in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Dec. 12.
“He seems to like Gulfstream. He’s won twice and just missed in the Harlan’s Holiday. He lost to Valid, and we know how tough Valid is,” said Pletcher, who named Joel Rosario to ride the son of Lookin At Lucky. “Hopefully, he gets a favorable pace set-up for him and he runs his race.”
Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice looms as an imposing rival for the Pletcher trio, distinguishing himself as the only horse to defeat Triple Crown champion and unanimous 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah last year.
The Dale Romans-trained 4-year-old had finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby (G1), third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and second in the Haskell (G1) behind American Pharoah before registering his 16-1 upset over the Bob Baffert-trained star by three-quarters of a length in the Travers at Saratoga.
The son of Curlin finished fourth behind American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland and fourth again in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs to close out his sophomore campaign. Keen Ice has been training sharply in a series of six workouts at Gulfstream Park in preparation for his 2016 debut.
“We freshened him up after the race at Churchill and he’s come back here and has breezed phenomenal,” Romans said. “He’s gotten better and better. He’s as good as he’s ever been.”
“The setup – there’s a lot of it that goes against him. But he’s coming into it in such good shape,” Romans said. “He’s going to run a big race.”
Javier Castellano, who rode Mshawish in his Hal’s Hope victory, returns to the saddle for Keen Ice’s 2016 debut. The only time the four-time defending Championship meet titlist has ridden Keen Ice was his monumental upset of American Pharoah.
Keen Ice is scheduled to concede between three and seven pounds to his rivals.
Crossed Sabres Farms’ Valid, a seasoned graded-stakes performer, had also been considered for Saturday’s $100,000 Fred Hooper (G3) at a mile. Trainer Marcus Vitali opted for the bigger purse and longer distance of the Donn.
“His numbers are better at a mile and an eighth,” Vitali said. “The Donn is a good opportunity to win a Grade 1.”
Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Financial Modeling is entered to seek his third straight victory Saturday. The late-developing Chad Brown trainee is slated to make his graded-stakes debut in the Donn after capturing an optional claiming allowance event on turf at Aqueduct Nov. 28 and winning his stakes debut in the Queens County over Aqueduct’s inner track Dec.19.
Team Valor International’s Mexikoma, whom trainer Michael Dilger saddled for a victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic last time out; and WinStar Farm’s Closing Bell, a Grade 1stakes-placed 4-year-old on turf who broke his maiden on dirt; are also entered in the Donn.
Source: Gulfstream Park