TORONTO, December 14 – It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Donau, but the three-year-old pacing gelding will look to stay the course in the $30,000 second leg of the Valedictory Series, Monday night at Woodbine.
The Riina Rekila trainee, who was named after a river in central Europe, surprised the betting public when he won his opening round division of the Valedictory on December 8 at odds of 7-1.
“He didn’t shock me because he has been pretty good at home,” said the Finnish-born Rekila. “His last four races have been good.”
The same couldn't be said of earlier performances. The bay missed the board in his first 10 starts of the year and it wasn't until September 6 at Kawartha Downs that he found the winner’s circle.
“I was very disappointed in him the whole summer,” Rekila said of Donau, who was diagnosed with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), a common neurological disease.
“In the fall, we treated him aggressively and after, he trained like a new horse,” she stated.
After posting three wins and two third-place finishes from 17 starts this year for Rekila and her husband, Esa Lahtinen (Overseas Farms Ltd.), the son of American Ideal-In Fashion is starting to round into form.
(Riina Rekila - WEG/Michael Burns Photography)
For a conditioner who primarily focuses on trotters, how did she get a pacer?
“We bought his mare in foal,” she explained. “I didn’t know much about a pacers’ pedigree, but I looked into the mare’s pedigree and all (her foals) had lots of wins and money.
“When Esa went to Harrisburg he called me and said, ‘The mare isn’t too big, but looks okay and has a white spot on her backside,’ and I thought, ‘Buy it right away,’” she recalled with a laugh.
Rekila elects to use different training methods on Donau.
“He is getting trained by being ridden, never with a harness on,” she said. “I just gallop him or try dressage.”
Looking ahead to Monday’s trip around the Toronto oval, Rekila is hoping the six-time career winner, with $61,190 in lifetime earnings, can take all the spoils again.
“If he gets a good trip and is the same as he was last week, I think he will be competitive,” said Rekila.
“When he is okay, he can take any trip and he’ll usually finish well,” she added. “I don’t know if he has a lot of gate speed because we usually haven’t used him off the gate, but he is getting better.”
Donau and driver Luc Ouellette will leave post six in the first of two second leg divisions of the Valedictory, which is for sophomore pacing colts and geldings, who are non-winners of $50,000 lifetime as of October 31.
Also on the 11-race programme, a lone $30,000 second leg division of the Niagara, which is for three-year-old pacing fillies, who are also non-winners of $50,000 lifetime as of October 31, will be contested.
The $60,000 Niagara and Valedictory finals are slated for Woodbine’s Boxing Day card (Wednesday, December 26), which will have a special 1:00 p.m. post time.