When Harlan's Holiday won the Florida Derby here last winter, he seemed destined for stardom. Establishing himself as the top 3-year-old in the country, he was favored to win the Kentucky Derby, but he never lived up to his early promise.
Until today. Harlan's Holiday scored an emphatic victory in the Grade I Donn Handicap, becoming the first horse to win Gulfstream Park's two most important stakes in consecutive years. With this performance he showed promise that he will go on to become one of the country's top older runners.
Though he had drawn the disadvantageous No. 11 post position, Harlan's Holiday got a good trip stalking the early leaders, then drew off to a 21/2-length victory over Hero's Tribute, with Puzzlement third in the $500,000 event.
Harlan's Holiday displayed the virtues that made him look so formidable last winter, a combination of natural speed with tractability and a solid finishing kick. But as a 3-year-old he simply wasn't good enough to handle the best colts of his generation; he finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness. Even after his owner replaced trainer Ken McPeek with Todd Pletcher, Harlan's Holiday flopped in the major fall stakes.
But this year he looks like a different horse. "He's done all the things you want to see a horse do from [age] 3 to 4," Pletcher said. "He's gotten bigger and stronger and more mature."
Harlan's Holiday won an allowance race here last month in fast time, establishing himself as the favorite for the Donn, and would have been a shorter price than 2 to 1 if he hadn't drawn the outside post.
"I wanted to get him as close [to the lead] as I could without using the horse too much," jockey John Velasquez said. "When he broke so well, at the first turn I was where I wanted to be."
Harlan's Holiday was three-wide, within striking distance of the pace-setting speedster, Keats. Even when Keats opened a five-length lead, Velasquez was in no hurry; he was confident the leader would tire, and he was correct. Hero's Tribute went after Keats, too, but Harlan's Holiday outkicked him on the turn and drew away to win in 1:49 for the 11/8 miles.