Doncho Speeds Away in $150K Gold Fever

May 5, 2024

Doncho. (Chelsea Durand)

By Keith McCalmont

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – JAL Racing’s Doncho made the front and never looked back to notch his first career stakes win in Sunday’s Listed $150,000 Gold Fever, a six-furlong sprint for sophomores, at Belmont at the Big A.

Trained by Michelle Lovell and piloted by Jaime Torres, the Mo Town gelding arrived from a fourth-place finish in his stakes debut in the seven-furlong Lafayette on April 5 at Keeneland where he stalked the swift pace of the victorious Glengarry before fading. 

“I think he learned a lot [from the Lafayette] and we learned a lot, so we just let him do his thing,” Lovell said. “Last time, I think we were trying to rate him a little to save him for [the possibility] of stretching him out, and not that he can’t rate, but it looked like it would be a good idea to be closer to the pace today with the track being the way it is, being sealed. I thought Jamie did a really good job putting him in the race and just sitting and saving him for a little bit. He looked great all the way through to the wire. I’m so proud of him.”

Doncho broke alertly and set splits of 21.87 seconds and 44.86 over the good and sealed main track with Buccherino pressing the pace to his inside and the stakes-placed Maximus Meridius tracking in third position under Hall of Famer Joel Rosario.

Maximus Meridius advanced with an outside move through the turn to overtake Buccherino but Doncho had plenty left in the tank, kicking away though five-eighths in 56.88 en route to a 2 1/2-length score in a final time of 1:09.77. Maximus Meridius completed the exacta by four lengths over Buccherino, who was a neck better than the late-running Pirate. Billal, the slow-starting Eliminate, Iridescent and last year’s Grade 3 Sanford-winner Yo Yo Candy rounded out the order of finish.

“I thought he looked like a winner the whole way. I wasn’t nervous today. I was really excited about the chance,” Lovell said. “I realized there were some other horses in there that could definitely challenge him for the lead or come get him, but I thought he looked like a winner the whole race. It was great to watch. I’m watching with friends and it’s been a great day.

“He’s naturally fast, easy,” added Lovell. “I’m glad to see he put it all together and stayed collected through the wire and didn’t lose his action. He’s a very strong horse.”

Torres, who picked up his first graded win by guiding Seize the Grey to victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs, gave all the credit to Doncho.

“The plan was to have a good break and be as close as we can. He was very sharp warming up, and I just helped him to break out from there. Then, he did everything,” Torres said.

Doncho with time Torres aboard. (Chelsea Durand)

Torres, who was the leading apprentice rider on the NYRA circuit in 2023 with 37 wins, reflected on how far his career has come in such a short time. He guided Seize the Grey to a second-out maiden win in July at Saratoga.

“I’m very blessed and excited. [New York] is where I started learning and spent almost my whole apprenticeship here,” Torres said. “It’s unbelievable and there’s no words. Seize the Grey is very special to me, right from the beginning. I have a big picture of him in my house and after the race, I just went and kissed it.”

The Butch Reid, Jr.-trained and Rosario-piloted Maximus Meridius cut back in distance from a runner-up effort to Reasoned Analysis in the seven-furlong ListedBay Shore here last out on April 6 where he made an early move to lead by four lengths at the stretch call under Mychel Sanchez. 

“I think Joel rode a perfect race. He sat him just where we wanted him,” Reid, Jr. said. “This horse kind of needs someone to run at and he was certainly running at the leader there at the end.

“I think he is better with someone in front of him. I really do,” added Reid, Jr. “I think a little bit farther is still his best distance. I’m not taking anything away from the winner. The winner ran a big race. That’s a fast horse.”

Rosario, aboard for the first time in the afternoon, agreed that Maximus Meridius would appreciate more ground.

“The horse on the lead ran a big race today. It looked like for a second he [Maximus Meridius] might make a little move, but maybe he’ll like a little longer,” Rosario said. “But he ran a big race, and I think the horse in front loved the track. My horse got a good second. He was ready for me and when I asked, he was there for me.”

Doncho launched his career with a pair of frontrunning wins traveling six furlongs at Fair Grounds, graduating in a maiden special weight on December 30 and following on February 13 in an optional-claiming event with Torres aboard for the first time.

Lovell said Doncho is possible for a start in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

“Sprinting looks like his jam. We’re at Churchill, so we have that to look at, but Saratoga is always fun. [The Woody Stephens] would definitely be something to consider,” Lovell said.

Doncho, a $72,000 OBS June 2-Year-Olds and HRA Sale purchase, is out of the Henny Hughes mare Sassy Redhead. His third dam, Sassy Pants, produced Grade 1-winner Dubai Escapade and multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Madcap Escapade.

Bred in Kentucky by Susan Young, Doncho banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 4-3-0-0. He returned $6 for a $2 win bet.

Live racing resumes Thursday at Belmont at the Big A with an eight-race card. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

@jonathanstettin u should really do a 2 minute Past The Wire recorded segment for @Steve_Byk Monday Morning. Very grounded, excellent stuff

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