David Donk took a realistic approach into the Belmont Park spring-summer and Saratoga Race Course meetings, knowing his barn didn’t include any major stakes winners like Awad, Ordway, Incurable Optimist, Pennine Ridge, Hessonite and King Kreesa.
Not that it’s slowing the veteran horseman down any; Donk is off to a strong start at Saratoga with three wins after winning 10 from 79 starts at Belmont.
“Before the meet at Belmont and here, I said I don’t have the really good horses right now, I’ve just got a lot of Monday, Wednesday, Thursday horses,” Donk said. “But they need me, we run six days. The money is great. It works for my business model to have horses for those races, and year-round, that’s what I say to people. The game has changed because everybody’s afraid to get beat, but if you’re second or third there’s a lot of money. It works for the owner and it works for me.”
Donk won’t be absent from stakes competition at the meet, with J C’s Shooting Star on target for a New York-bred stakes and possibly another member of his string bedded down in his usual spot near the three-eighths pole on the main track. His mentor and former boss, the late Woody Stephens, kept horses in that area during his Hall of Fame career and Donk isn’t afraid to pull a quote from the legend every now and again.
“The quote is, and it’s from Woody, ‘If you don’t have one, you don’t have any,’ ” Donk said. “If I had to pick one today, the best quality 2-year-old, it might be a filly named Kingdom’s Queen.”
Donk zipped back and forth between the main track and the Oklahoma Thursday morning, giving Steve and Mary Clyde, former classmates at Midlakes High School in Clifton Springs, N.Y., a tour of the barn and stable area before taking a break to talk with The Special’s Tom Law about the group.
Kingdom’s Queen: Robert Spiegel’s 2-year-old filly by Animal Kingdom is out of the Clever Trick mare Ruff, who Donk trained to win the Grade 3 Miss Grillo in 2000 and two other stakes. Entered for Sunday. “The mare was a pretty nice filly, won a few stakes. She’ll make her first start next weekend, grass horse, lot of class, looks like the Animal Kingdoms are OK.”
Phone Funky Munky: Funky Monkey Stable’s 2-year-old Data Link gelding cost $35,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred sale. Finished third behind Evaluator and Singapore Trader in his debut Aug. 9. “Useful New York-bred. I just hope he can move forward a little bit in his next race. I thought he’d give a good account of himself. The winner was impressive so maybe that bodes well.”
Codrington: Charles Engel’s homebred 2-year-old daughter of Courageous Cat ran back on eight days rest Thursday and finished second in maiden on the grass for state-breds. “I pigeonholed her as a grass horse all along. Ran her on the dirt at Belmont, thought she was going to be useful on it but she didn’t outrun me. Came back here and sprinted on the grass. I preferred to run her long but I didn’t expect there to be a long race in the book. She’s coming back in eight days. She’ll develop and hopefully be a useful New York-bred.”
Matty’s Magnum: Kentucky-bred 2-year-old filly by Even The Score for Edward Ross Lessell and Mary Jo Lessell. “She’s trained well. May be in a bit of deep water here in a maiden special weight. Probably a two-turn grass horse. She’ll run soon. I had her in the other day and she acted up in the morning and we scratched her. Breezed (Thursday, half-mile in :49.78) and she’s useful.”
Sardonyx: A $62,000 buy at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred sale by William Punk Jr., daughter of Freud is in training at Belmont. “I like her, might start at the end of the meet or early Belmont. Ideally looking for a filly that’s going to improve next year, a bit like Hessonite did. I’m fond of the Freuds and I’m hoping she has a bit of a future.”
J C’s Shooting Star: One of the veterans of the string, 5-year-old Miracle Man mare won the 2015 Fleet Indian Stakes on Saratoga Showcase Day. She finished third in two-turn allowance on the main track July 24. “She won a stakes here two years ago, broke her maiden in the stake actually. A really useful filly. I’m quite fond of her, really nice mover and I’d love to get her back over the grass but some of the races are just too tough. She was a good third here the beginning of the meet, probably could have been second if she saved ground in the slop. She’ll run back in the Saratoga Dew Monday if it fills and she’ll be competitive. I’d love to get her back on the grass at some point but at the moment the state-breds on the grass are tough. Otherwise it’s the Yaddo, that’s an option.”
Hoboe: The barn’s third winner of the meet, Siegel Sez Stable’s 3-year-old Macho Uno colt broke his maiden Sunday in 1 1/16-mile turf race for state-breds. “He was a horse sent to me last fall by Rick Siegel and Ken Shaw, trained really well, beautiful mover. He looks like a jump horse, big, scopey, beautiful mover. Moves well over the dirt, I ran him maybe three starts over the dirt, he was somewhat disappointing. The clients inquired whether I should drop him in the company and I said, ‘you’ve got to try him on the grass once.’ He was a good second the first time on it, came up the fence, then he was third at Belmont and he won the other day. I liked him the other day. He’s a horse that can be better than average if he continues to go forward. He’s a lovely horse to be around. I’m trying to find one to make the next step.”
Yummy Bear: Capped the barn’s big day Sunday with a victory in 1-mile allowance for state-breds. Owned by Funky Munky Stable, 4-year-old by Sidney’s Candy is 3-for-19 with $155,824 in earnings. “I’m going to say he’s an overachiever. We claimed him for 40 last year, didn’t like the way he was doing, the owners allowed me to turn him out, he came back, I ran him on the dirt this winter. We felt he would be much better off getting to the grass and he’s won three races this year for them. The other day I thought if he hit the board it would be a very good race for him, he was really game and it’s fun for the owners to win at Saratoga.”
Missy’s Storm: Thomas Thienel’s homebred Freud filly put the barn in the win column in maiden claimer July 26. “She’s a little filly, useful, with a big heart. Doesn’t have the conformation you like to see but I was impressed that she was able to win second off the layoff. She’ll probably come back and ideally in a claimer before we go back home.”
Have Another: Spiegel’s homebred 3-year-old Stay Thirsty gelding has been off since fifth in Paradise Creek Stakes at Belmont May 27. “He’s a horse I’ve entered a few times but haven’t gotten in. He’s a half to Vision Perfect. Broke his maiden over the winter on the dirt, he ran a good race on the grass at Belmont, so he’s gone both ways. I’d like to run him here, otherwise I’m looking for a spot out of town. Where I’ve entered the races haven’t filled. I need to be a little aggressive with him.”
Tough Old Bird: Donk co-owns 4-year-old Touch Gold filly with John Behrendt, Charles Marquis and Sean Carney. She’s entered in today’s ninth, a 5 1/2-furlong turf maiden for state-breds. “I’m a part owner and she’s named for my mother, so unfortunately I’m a little bit fond of her. Early on it looked like she’d be OK, she’s disappointed this spring over the dirt but I’ve got her in first time over the grass. I was convinced early on that she wasn’t a grass horse because I’m dying to get a dirt horse in the barn. She’ll be well meant over it and probably a big price tomorrow. She’ll give a good account of herself, I don’t think it’s that tough of a race. My mother’s name was Nadine or Dee Dee, but when we were young she’d been in the hospital a couple times and when I was young one time I told her, ‘Mom, you’re a tough old bird.’ ”
T R Crew: Pennsylvania-bred Uncle Mo gelding won Parx allowance June 20 then finished sixth in allowance won by Fayeq at Saratoga July 26 going 1 1/8 miles. “Ran horrible but he’s a pretty cool horse. He got too hot when he ran here the other day. I might run him here, or wait to run him at Parx. He’s a useful allowance horse and if not he’ll do well over the winter. I think the crowd shook him up the other day. There won’t be very many people at Aqueduct, or Parx.”
Romantic Babe: Entered in today’s fifth race, a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight on the grass, daughter of Girolamo cost $17,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. “Inexpensive purchase, she’d probably better suited for a $75,000 claimer. She’s on the grass and the waters are pretty deep, but she’s ready to run. I think the 5 1/2 is what she wants to do, she has some speed, big turf foot on her. You’re in deep waters here in the maiden special weights.”
Spectrolite: Lightly raced 5-year-old by Any Given Saturday didn’t make it to races until May 2016. He’s won three of his last four starts, including victory for $50,000 going 6 furlongs on the turf in 1:07.59 at Belmont July 16. “He’s a horse that has had multiple injuries, I took over ownership because of it but my daughter named him, so I’m suckered in on those. Been a solid horse this year, broke his maiden, won two other races. Ran a fast race on the grass in a never won three at Belmont going 7 and 3. He’ll probably run back in a starter in the last condition book if they have one. He’s been a project but he can run a little bit.”
Red Spark: Training at Belmont, 3-year-old Ohio-bred colt by Hansen finished fourth and third in maiden races on the inner track at Aqueduct in December and January. “He’s a decent horse, probably won’t be ready to run at the meet. He ran twice over the winter, very well, then had some feet issues so we stopped on him. He’s back in training. I don’t know if he’ll make a start here by the end of the meet or not and if not early at Belmont.”