Up the Backstretch: Following in Itsmyluckyday's hoofprints
By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - New Year's Day marks the birthday for all thoroughbreds with special attention being made to the newly designated 3-year-olds.
The new Kentucky Derby season, beginning Jan. 1, gets underway Wednesday with the running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby at one-mile. The 2014 edition will have a difficult time matching last year's race when Itsmuluckyday won the event on his way to bigger and better successes.
Trained by Ed Plesa Jr. for his wife Laurie and Trilogy Stable, Itsmyluckyday won the mile stakes in his 2013 debut race by just under seven lengths with Paco Lopez riding.
Lopez will again have a mount in Wednesday's race, getting a leg up on Wildcat Red from trainer Jose Garoffalo.
"He is a nice horse. He has shown a lot of class since his first time out," Garoffalo. "I think he could be a good horse at the mile or over the mile. That's why we're running in this race. He's been working very good. He's training very good. He feels good, so we hope with the help of a little bit of luck and a rider change, I think we can win the race."
Owned by Honors Stable Corp., Wildcat Red will break from the inside post in the nine-horse field as the colt makes his fourth career start with two wins and a disqualification to second on his record.
"Unfortunately, he lost the last race but he did his job," Garoffalo said. "He got there and he showed his class in that race. He lost the race because of a rider mistake, but he still has the capacity to beat those horses from now on."
The race in question was the $125,000 Juvenile Sprint for Florida-breds on Nov. 9 at Gulfstream Park. Wildcat Red was disqualified to second for bearing out in the stretch after crossing wire 1 1/2 lengths to the good. Edgard Zayas had been the colt's jockey in his first three starts, but Lopez will be in the saddle New Year's Day.
"The rail is always a concern at a mile, but he has the ability to run anywhere," Garoffalo said. "He can run on the lead, or he can run behind the speed. I'm very confident the horse is going to go longer. He's going to get the mile easily. We're looking forward to the longer distances."
A good showing in the Gulfstream Park Derby will put Wildcat Red in a similar position that Itsmyluckyday was one year earlier. The older colt followed his New Year's Day win with a victory in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.
"If we do good in this race, the next step could be the Holy Bull. Then, we'll see. That's pretty much the plan so far," Garoffalo said.
After winning the Holy Bull, Itsmyluckyday got second to Orb in the Florida Derby and eventually finished as the runner-up behind Oxbow in the Preakness Stakes.
"He's playing on his home court. He stayed here and trained here all summer," Garoffalo said. "He's getting stronger, and mentally he's more focused. In the beginning, he was kind of green but now he's a different horse. I hope that with the time he's going to get better. All we need is a little bit of luck."
12/30 15:37:46 ET