Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with David Donk

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David Donk takes a straightforward approach to his business, keeps his barn full of useful horses and sends a clear message to his owners. (Originally published in July 26 issue of The Saratoga Special)

“The biggest thing is I’m here year-round so I don’t want to lose the big picture,” Donk said. “There’s Belmont and Aqueduct. I’m here 12 months a year. I tell my clients, they talk about trying to win in Saratoga. Be thankful if you get to run in Saratoga. Because, like I said Wednesday, a lot of really good owners, trainers and jocks have been humbled at this place.”

Donk said the latter after winning his first race of the meet with Sky Kitten. He won eight races last year out of his usual barn at about the midpoint of the far turn near the three-eighths pole. He’s back for another Saratoga meet with a mix of young horses and veterans from a total string of 45 split between upstate and Belmont for the summer.

Donk sat down with The Special’s Tom Law and Catherine Galbraith Thursday morning, talked about his former boss and mentor Woody Stephens, Ramon Dominguez, the state of the game, racing’s willingness and resistance to change, suggested a potential story on safety issues and the Saratoga string.

Sky Kitten: The barn’s first winner came for longtime clients Charles Marquis and John Behrendt Wednesday. Homebred New York-bred 2-year-old Sky Mesa filly won off-the-turf maiden going 7 furlongs. “Little bit of a surprise. As Manny (Franco) said when he jumped off, she’s definitely grass. But I think she goes both ways, some of the family has. I knew she was useful and was looking forward to running her on the grass to get a line on her. But at least I know if it comes off I can run.”

Veterans Beach: A debut winner for Donk and the Generazios last summer at Saratoga in 5 1/2-furlong state-bred turf maiden. He’s finished second twice and third once in five starts since. “He’s a sprinter. Didn’t run well in the Stallion Series at Belmont. I was a little disappointed but his condition comes back again next week.”

Courageous Girl: Brady Horse Racing’s and Rusba V Stables’ homebred 2-year-old Bourbon Courage filly didn’t get the chance to run in Thursday’s seventh, a 6-furlong maiden on the main track, thanks to the cancelation after the fourth. “Interesting sire. He stands in Maryland. I have another one by him named Double Shot, who won’t run at the meet. He’s had a couple winners, had a horse who won in California and one that was third in the Sanford (Racing Whiskey). Some of them can run a little bit. She’s a high energy filly.”

Beyond Brown: Patricia Generazio’s homebred 2-year-old Big Brown filly finished fourth in debut June 22 at Belmont. “She just needs to settle more, too anxious in the post parade, too anxious in the race. She’s for the Generazios, obviously they’re a credit to the industry, New York-bred program, New Jersey-bred, Florida-bred. I’m honored to have horses for them. It’s only been since last year and the reason I have horses with them is Christophe Clement advised them to send me horses. That’s the first time another trainer has ever done that for me.”

English Breeze: Two-year-old filly by English Channel out of stakes-placed North Light mare Dreaming Of Cara. She’s breezed eight times downstate, including a half-mile from the gate July 7. “She hopefully runs later in the meet. She’s still at Belmont. She’s OK, had some decent works. I have a few New York-bred fillies that are pretty useful fortunately. I’m getting a line on them running Sky Kitten (Wednesday). They all fall in that same category.”

Jc’s Shooting Star: One of the veterans of the barn, Shooting Star Stable’s 7-year-old mare sports 6-for-45 record with nine seconds and 10 thirds for a bankroll of $624,551. Seventh in the Caress Stakes sprinting on the grass Sunday. “She’s run every distance, every surface that’s known to man. Tough spot the other day. She’ll come back in the Union Avenue, probably doesn’t beat Linda Rice’s good filly Holiday Disguise but was second to her back at Belmont. She’s by a sire you couldn’t have given away, Miracle Man. You have to go back and look at the numbers of ones that I’ve had. No Tapits, no War Fronts. The only time I look at those is when I see a catalog page.”

Kreesie: Gerald and Susan Kresa’s stakes-winning 4-year-old Cosmonaut filly also missed a chance to run Thursday. She was entered in the the eighth, an open-company allowance going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Winner of the Statue of Liberty division of the New York Stallion Series Stakes at last year’s meet and three of 13 overall for $215,368 in earnings. “Pretty useful New York-bred. It was a competitive a-other-than, she was third in the Mount Vernon back at Belmont and hopefully she’ll go to the Yaddo.”

Vici: Big Hands Stables’ graded-stakes placed 7-year-old War Front gelding finished second in three starts in optional claimers on the grass in April, May and June at Belmont. “I’m looking for a race for him, when we get to the last book here. Pretty solid horse, runs on either surface.”

Spectrolite: Donk owns 7-year-old Any Given Saturday gelding, a six-time winner in 13 starts. He’s entered in Saturday’s third, a 5 ½-furlong turf event for $25,000 claimers. “Old warrior. He’s in a good spot Saturday but he’s had surgery three times, been stopped on and laid off five times. Pretty amazing horse, big speed. Puts it on the line all the time. Limited starts in his career.”

Sterling Beauty: A $7,500 purchase by Cathy Cimino’s Equine Info Exchange, 3-year-old Central Banker filly finished fifth in Cupecoy’s Joy division of New York Stallion Series Stakes. “She’s run in the (Statue of Liberty) Stallion Series next week. She’s still a maiden. The first two finishers of the last division will be the two favorites. Trying to be third, get black type. It’s going to be a short field and then hopefully come back.”

Ancient Brown: New York-bred 2-year-old filly by Big Brown breezed 3 furlongs at Belmont July 22, her third work since arriving from Keeneland in May. “She came to me out of Kentucky, well prepared by Kellyn Gorder. Had some shins after a gate work but she’s back on the work tab. Ideally I could run her late in the meet. She falls into that category of my useful New York-bred fillies.”

Hoboe: Siegel Sez Stable’s 5-year-old gelding by Macho Uno sports 4-for-16 record and $221,713. Finished fifth in turf allowance July 21. “A little disappointing the other day, maybe because it was a flat mile. He’s been a solid New York-bred. That was an open allowance the other day. He probably will appreciate running a mile and an eighth up here and with a little more cut in the ground. Soft ground.”

Mills: A veteran of the New York circuit, 9-year-old gelding was entered main track only but didn’t draw into 11-furlong optional July 18. He’s won six of 58 starts with 12 seconds and 12 thirds and $498,339. “He’s a horse I had, then he had a couple trainers and was sent back to me earlier this summer. I’m looking to run him in the right spot and I want to run him two turns. My success with him was to run him long so I need to run him a mile and an eighth here. There is a race next week, just need it to fill.”

Matty’s Magnum: Edward and Mary Jo Lessell’s 4-year-old by Even The Score won here last summer. The winner of four of 17 and $281,790, she ran in four straight stakes this spring and summer. “I won a race with her here last year off the turf then did it twice more in New York off the turf. I have limited opportunities. She’s not a graded stakes horse, so ideally I’ll MTO her in a few spots, maybe find some spots. She’s overperformed for her pedigree. Hopefully just get a little lucky, MTO some of the horses I have and it works out.”

Simply Miss Red: Suzanne Haslup bought 3-year-old daughter of Langfuhr for $23,000 at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale. She finished sixth in a maiden special June 27 at Belmont and second in $40,000 maiden claimer here July 11. “She’s owned by a longtime friend of mine who spends the summer here and lives in Aiken in the wintertime. Second in three-horse field off the grass, opening week. I’ll get her back over the grass and see what she’s made of at the right level.”

The Honest Toun: A $30,000 buy at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale, Honorable Dillon colt finished eighth in maiden race July 24 after a third in similar spot in June 22 debut. “He’s owned by a Scotsman, Alistair Fyfe, a great guy. He was one of the favorites in (the July 24 race) and disappointed. Irad got off of him and thought he had a bad trip, stumbled, got off poorly, too far behind early, checked and wanted to ride him back. Watching the race I thought, ‘boy, we’re really in trouble here.’ But Irad was really encouraged by him. Hopefully we get to run him again later on.”