HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Trainer John Ward Jr. would have loved to have won the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap with Strong Contender on Jan. 6. As things turned out, Ward was just glad that his horse escaped a potentially disastrous bumping incident after the start and is able to return for Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap.
It will be the long-term results, not the short-term ones, that Ward is most interested in when Strong Contender goes up against Horse of the Year Invasor in the Donn - a race he may use as a prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 3.
Strong Contender, a two-time Grade 2 winner in 2006, finished fifth in the Hal's Hope after being severely roughed up shortly after the start. That was the first start for the son of Maria's Mon since he captured the Super Derby on Sept. 23.
"He got rattled around pretty damn bad in his last start," said Ward. "It turned his hind end from under him and he strained the muscles and ligaments around the stifle. He suffered some aches and pains but luckily no serious damage. It was a close call, and we were riding the edge for a while regarding the Donn."
But after watching Strong Contender work a bullet five furlongs in 59.60 seconds on Jan. 21 and come back with an easy half-mile in 50.60 on Tuesday, Ward is looking for a big effort from Strong Contender in the Donn.
"He's had a couple of good works and I think we're ready," said Ward.
Ward said he'll reassess Strong Contender after the Donn before deciding on future plans.
"We'll see how things play out Saturday," said Ward. "If all goes well we'll look at the Santa Anita Handicap. If not I can always stay here for the Gulfstream Park Handicap."
Reinstated Douglas rides one
Jockey Rene Douglas accepted his first mount of the meet when he rode Devil in Excess to a fifth-place finish in Wednesday's second race. Douglas was reinstated by Gulfstream Park management last Friday after being denied grounds privileges during an ongoing Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau investigation.
"I'm happy and grateful to be back riding again," said Douglas. "And glad this thing is over. Today was a big step for me because I wanted to see how fit I'd be after missing more than a month, and I was very happy with the way I felt after my first mount. I rode hard and my lungs felt good."
Douglas rides Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly Dreaming of Anna, who is expected to make her 3-year-old debut in the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes on Feb. 10.
Prado speaks of Barbaro
Edgar Prado was back at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday after a whirlwind trip to his native Peru, where he rode in an all-star jockey race for South American riders on Tuesday. It was in Peru on Monday that Prado learned that Barbaro, the horse he rode to victory in last year's Kentucky Derby, had been euthanized.
Like everyone else connected to Barbaro, Prado knew this result was the most likely outcome after Barbaro shattered his right hind leg in the Preakness. But the finality did not make it any easier.
"It's a hard thing to swallow," Prado said at Gulfstream on Wednesday afternoon. "Not just for me but for all of racing, because he could have been the kind of stallion everyone was looking for. His breeding will not be passed on to the next generation. He could have been one of the greatest. We already knew what kind of talent he had, and he showed his courage and determination."
Prado said he talked to Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the owners of Barbaro, on Wednesday morning. He admired them for making the tough yet humane decision to have Barbaro euthanized and end his suffering.
"I couldn't have made that decision," Prado said. "That had to be a very, very hard decision to make. But once the horse was in that pain, it wasn't worth it."
Prado said he feared in recent weeks that the end was near for Barbaro.
"I saw clips of him walking," he said. "His head was down. I knew it wasn't the same horse."
Prado said he will never forget Barbaro, who brought him his first victory in the Derby and was instrumental in Prado being named the 2006 Eclipse Award-winning jockey.
"When someone dies, the only thing you have are memories," Prado said. "We'll have great memories of Barbaro as long as we live."
Peruvians finish first and second
Prado finished third in the jockey challenge in Peru. Two other Gulfstream riders participated - Javier Castellano, representing Venezuela, and Rafael Bejarano, who was born in Peru. They flew to Lima on Sunday night.
"It takes five hours, but it's a long trip because you leave at midnight, and it's hard to sleep on the plane," Castellano said. "We rode in four races. Two guys from Peru finished first and second."
Nobiz Like Shobiz work a bit slow
Nobiz Like Shobiz tuned up for his start in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes with an easy half-mile breeze in 48 seconds on Wednesday morning under regular jockey Cornelio Velasquez.
"I wouldn't have minded it a little bit faster," said Barclay Tagg, who trains Nobiz Like Shobiz. "He does things so easy. I've just got to make sure he's done enough."
Nobiz Like Shobiz has won twice in three starts. His loss came in the Champagne Stakes against Scat Daddy, one of his rivals in the Holy Bull.
Soldier's Dancer to stay on turf
Trainer Dave Vivian had contemplated running Soldier's Dancer, the winner of the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby on the grass, in Saturday's Holy Bull on dirt. But a recent mishap in the barn area put a damper in those plans. Instead, Soldier's Dancer will stay on the grass for the $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes on Feb. 24.
"He got loose and fell on the road a couple of weeks ago and got cut up pretty good, so that pretty much eliminated the Holy Bull," said Vivian. "Somewhere along the line we'll probably try him again on the dirt, but I'm in no rush to go up against a horse like Nobiz Like Shobiz. Cornelio [Velasquez] also rides my horse, and he told me he's been breezing Nobiz Like Shobiz and that he's really special, that every time he works him he always seems to have something left."
- additional reporting by Jay Privman