Midway through a tour of his TLore software list, trainer David Donk lands on a colt whose dam was part of the barn 16 years ago and thinks about what it means.
“It means I’m getting older,” he said with a laugh. It also means Donk’s business model continues to work with loyal clients, solid production and a hands-on approach that goes back to his days with Hall of Famer Woody Stephens. The big fans hum in the shedrow, the horses wear loose black hoods with ear covers and Donk and his wife Fay work. If one is not walking a horse or giving a rider a leg up, the other is.
A trainer since 1980, Donk is in his usual spot along the far turn of the main track and picked up a win last week with Merlins Muse. The 2018 squad includes numerous New York-breds, several 2-year-olds, some allowance types and even 9-year-old New York-bred turf star King Kreesa.
If you press, Donk will try to say he doesn’t have any good horses but his definition of good sets a high bar.
“I have nice horses, but I don’t have any that will win a graded stakes,” he said. “I’m a little bit light in quality that way, but I’ve got a bunch of horses, I have very good clients. I love what I do, I run it as a business and my business model works for me because the purse money is good. My win percentage is not going to look pretty, but I’m not going to worry about that. I’m able to train nice horses, make a living and do what I love.”
And the graded stakes winners – like Awad, Hessonite, King Kreesa, Pinnine Ridge and others – can always show up. If they don’t, Donk has a back-up plan.
“I’m also positioning myself,” he said. “I never thought I’d say this five years ago, but if I had to retire in 10 years I’d be able to. I’ll retire in Saratoga, and I can deliver papers for The Saratoga Special.”
The Special isn’t sure of its 10-year plan, but if the paper is still around Donk can have the job. Saturday morning, in between career discussions, he talked horses with The Special’s Joe Clancy. (Originally published in Aug. 6 issue of The Saratoga Special)
King Kreesa: Gerry and Susan Kresa’s New York-bred star is winless since 2016, but on the comeback trail as a 9-year-old. He’s won 11 times (10 stakes) and earned $1.4 million in 41 starts and finished fifth in his only start this year, a deep optional claimer at Belmont in June. Donk said this will be the last season on the track for the son of King Cugat, who will be retired to Old Friends retirement farm in Kentucky – where his old rival Lubash resides. “I’ve entered him the last few days to try and run him in an allowance race and it hasn’t filled. There are some New York-bred stakes, but let’s face it, Father Time is catching up to him. The plan is to run him a few more times. He’s really sharp, a little bit too sharp. He’s doing pretty well here.”
Kreesie: Another from the Kresa stable, 3-year-old Cosmonaut filly won a New York Stallion Stakes at Belmont in June, and is entered in Thursday’s Saratoga edition going a mile on the turf. “I’ve always been a fan of Cosmonaut, he didn’t have that many foals, but they can all run. She’s been a really good one-turn filly with a big turn of foot, but I think she’ll stretch out.”
Jc’s Shooting Star: Hard-hitting New York-bred has banged out $534,456 in 37 starts for Shooting Star Stable. The 6-year-old daughter of Miracle Man broke her maiden (at 18-1) in the Fleet Indian Stakes here in 2015 and has won at least one race a year in all four seasons. Her most recent score came at 6 furlongs on the turf at Belmont in June. “She’s turned into a really good off-the-pace sprinter. Ideally, she runs back here on the 12th in a three-other-than allowance race. She’s an ATM machine. The people that own her bred her, and they own the stallion. They kind of clean up when she does well. Pretty cool filly.”
Elegant Zip: Two-year-old filly owned by Donk and several partners including Mike McMahon finished second in a new York-bred maiden here July 25. An RNA at Fasig-Tipton October in Kentucky, she is by Run Away And Hide and eyes another start at the meet. “She ran really, really well first time out. I bought in on half of her and then I brought another partner in. She was second first time out, really encouraging. I thought she’d run decent, and it was a really good race. She’ll probably run back here in a couple weeks or so.”
Early Retirement: Donk may want to nickname this one Paperboy. Two-year-old Freud gelding was fourth in an off-the-turf maiden here (behind runaway winner Dugout) July 23 and is entered in Wednesday’s fifth race going long on the turf for owner Charlie Engel. “He’s pretty cool, improves when he gets to the grass. He ran once, off the grass was an encouraging fourth. Most of them you’d love to educate (with a race) because second start on the grass you’re ahead of the game. You see what Steve Asmussen’s done here. They’ve run once in Kentucky and he’s beating up on everybody here. They’re very well-meant. It’ll be interesting to see him run.”
Veterans Beach: Frank and Patricia Generazio homebred 2-year-old colt by Big Brown (out of the Sky Mesa mare Sky Gazer) was originally going to run in the same race as Early Retirement, but scratched due to the surface change. Donk plans to enter again for Friday. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten a couple horses for them. Frank just said they had too many and Christophe Clement was nice enough to recommend me. They’re hard-running, solid horses so I was more than happy to take a couple. They’ve got all those grays, but I’ve got a bay and a chestnut.”
Merlins Muse: Donk’s winner scored in a $40,000 maiden claimer for New York-breds sprinting on the turf. Owners Wayne and Tina Evans bred the 3-year-old daughter of Cape Blanco and their mare Davanti, who started once (and finished 12th) for Donk in 2013. “She’s neat. She had one race last year and then she had a condylar fracture. Patty Hogan repaired her, she got the winter off. She came back, that was her third start the other day, with a big turn of foot. She’ll come back here somewhere. I guess I’ll always remember she got me off the duck.”
Eloweasel: Bred by Fox Ridge Farm, 5-year-old City Zip mare runs for a partnership of Donk, Suzy Haslup and Sean Carney. Second last time at Belmont, she’s entered in today’s eighth race. “She’s been knocking on the door, second last time in a two-other-than New York-bred. She’s a useful filly. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing in the major leagues with a lot of Double A and Triple A ballplayers, but the purse money is so good, seconds, thirds an fourths are good for my clients’ bottom line and mine. She’s got a decent chance. She’s got some value as a broodmare too.”
The Other Kessler: Named for a friend of owner/breeder Bob Spiegel, 2-year-old More Than Ready colt shows a string of works at Belmont Park and might make his debut by the end of Saratoga. Donk trained his dam Ruff, who won the Grade 3 Miss Grillo in 2000. “He’s probably the best-bred horse that I have – big, solid colt.”
Hoboe: Four-year-old won a maiden race here last summer for Donk and Siegel Sez Stables, and backed that up with a win at Belmont in September. Idle since, New York-bred gray could make the end of the Saratoga season. “He’s back breezing. I’m not sure he quite makes the end of the meet but he’s got a shot. He’s a pretty useful horse, he was just kind of figuring it out and developing a turn of foot on the grass.”
Danielle’s Pride: Youngs Racing Stable’s 4-year-old Mission Impazible filly, a graduate of the Fasig-Tipton New York mixed sale in 2015, runs in today’s fourth race after finishing second last time at Belmont July 15. “I’d love to see her move forward a little bit. She’s useful too. Maybe that wasn’t a fast race last time, but she seems to be pretty honest.”
Riken: Two-year-old colt has been working toward his debut for Siegel Sez. Donk likes what he sees from sire Central Banker, who stands at McMahon of Saratoga. “He could be a useful sire in New York. He’s a dirt horse and I’m always looking for a dirt horse. I’ll be curious about some of them coming up in the yearling sales too and he’s had a couple of winners. This one is coming along.”
Honorable Dillon colt: Out of four-time winner Tap All Night, the unnamed 2-year-old cost $27,000 by John Behrendt at last year’s Fasig-Tipton New York-bred sale. “He’s not very big, but he’s kind of handy. He might run by the end of the meet. It’s the same thing as Central Banker, Honorable Dillon could be a useful New York sire.