HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Constitution and Lea were both unbeaten at Gulfstream, so it was no surprise that they were the ones well in front entering the stretch of the Donn Handicap.
And every time Lea tried to close, Constitution had the answer.
Capping a monster day for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano, Constitution went wire-to-wire to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Donn on Saturday, beating Lea by three-quarters of a length after finishing 1 1/8 miles on Gulfstream's dirt in 1:49.51.
"We got to the position that we wanted him to be in," Pletcher said. "Plan A was if he got a good start, which he doesn't always do, we wanted to go ahead and let him run to the first turn from the rail. So we were happy with the way he went to the first turn."
The level of happiness just kept growing, all the way to the finish.
Constitution — last year's Florida Derby winner who missed the Triple Crown races because of injury — improved to 4 for 4 at Gulfstream, returning $7.60 to his backers and pushing his earnings to just over $1 million in six career starts.
"It's a speed horse," said Castellano, Constitution's jockey and a winner of four races Saturday to push his career victory total to 3,997. "I had a beautiful post and I wanted to take advantage of the inside, the 1 post. It worked out perfect."
Lea, who was trying to become the first back-to-back Donn winner since Cigar in 1995 and 1996, settled in nicely out of the gate and started making a move near the top of the stretch.
"I may have waited too long but he ran his race," said Joel Rosario, Lea's jockey. "He was really running at the end."
Elnaawi was third, five lengths behind the winner.
Pletcher wasn't sure where Constitution may head next.
"It's only February," Pletcher said. "We want a fresh horse for the rest of the year."
The Donn featured a field of nine after Sloane Avenue, who shipped in from England for what would have been his dirt debut, was scratched Saturday morning with a minor leg injury.
There were three other graded stakes for 4-year-olds and up on Saturday's Gulfstream card, including the Grade 1, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap — where Mshawish ($4.80) held off Slumber at the wire to add to a big stakes day for trainer Pletcher, who also had Far From Over prevail in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct earlier Saturday.
Mshawish finished 1 1-8 miles on the turf in 1:47.22, in a brilliant race where the first eight horses finished within about two lengths of one another.
Sandiva, an Irish-bred also trained by Pletcher, won the Grade 3, $150,000 Suwannee River for fillies and mares at Gulfstream, finishing 1 1-8 miles over the turf in 1:47.31 and returning $6.20 for her second straight victory.
And Valid ($10.20) prevailed in the Grade 3, $100,000 Fred Hooper, running 1 mile on the dirt in 1:36.35 — holding off 25-1 shot Grande Shores, who has now finished first or second in each of his last 13 starts.
That was the lone graded stake that Pletcher didn't win at Gulfstream on Saturday. Race Day, the 3-2 favorite from Pletcher's barn, was third in the Hooper.
"It was a great day," Pletcher said. "We're blessed. Last Sunday, when a lot of these horses breezed, I thought we were holding a pretty strong hand coming in and it worked out."