Photo courtesy Coglianese Photos/Leslie Martin
Making the Grade, which will run right up until the Belmont Stakes (G1), will focus on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the 2013 Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win the 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1) based on factors such as ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
Dark Bay or Brown Colt
Sire (Father): Lawyer Ron
Dam (Mother): Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court
Breeder: Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm (Ky.)
Owner: Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa
Trainer:Eddie Plesa Jr.
It took an incredible performance to hand 2012 champion 2-year-old male Shanghai Bobby his first career defeat, in fact it took a record-breaking performance. Itsmyluckyday shaved more than half of a second off the Gulfstream Park track record for 1 1/16 miles when he shook free of the aforementioned champion in the stretch of the Holy Bull to win by two lengths. The quality of competition Itsmyluckyday defeated in the Holy Bull, how fast he ran, and how visually impressive he was in victory vaulted him right to the top tier of 2013 Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
Ability: In an era when trainers frequently map out light campaigns for highly regarded horses with extra attention to spacing between races, Eddie Plesa Jr. has let Itsmyluckyday run and run often in his short career. The colt by Lawyer Ron made his ninth start since June in the Holy Bull Stakes and clearly has flourished with the work. His seventh start in a stakes race, the Holy Bull was Itsmyluckyday’s fourth stakes victory, all by open lengths. He won the off-the-turf Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash Stakes by four lengths going five furlongs sprinting on a sloppy track at Calder Race Course and came back three weeks later to win the 1 1/16-mile Foolish Pleasure Stakes by three lengths in September 2012 when stretching out in distance for the first time in his career. After unplaced finishes in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3) – his first try in a graded stakes – and Dania Beach Stakes on grass, Itsmyluckyday perhaps provided a foreshadowing of his brilliant Holy Bull performance with a dazzling 6 ¾-length romp in the Gulfstream Park Derby going a mile in his 3-year-old debut. He earned a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure in that race and bettered it with a 109 in the Holy Bull, most likely earning Itsmyluckyday a short break before his final Derby prep.
“We’ll see how he comes out of the race, but I’d lean toward the Florida Derby [March 30],” Plesa said of the next target for Itsmyluckyday. “But he’s going to tell me what he wants to do. Then I’ll sit down with our partners and we’ll discuss it.”
Itsmyluckyday had a nice resume entering the Holy Bull, but this record-setting win stamped the colt a true classics contender. Starting from a disadvantageous post, the seven slot, with an extremely short run into the first turn, Itsmyluckyday used his speed to gain an ideal stalking position in third then second behind Shanghai Bobby, who started from the far inside post. Itsmyluckyday had no trouble keeping up through a quick opening quarter and half-mile and when it came time to launch his winning rally, Itsmyluckyday still had plenty of gas in reserve reel in Shanghai Bobby. He then dispatched his elite challenger to pull away for an easy win, finishing the last sixteen of a mile in 6.7 seconds to establish a track record of 1:41.81. In watching the replay several times, what was most impressive was his acceleration on the turn to collar Shanghai Bobby and the way he leveled off in the stretch to overpower the champion. The winning time was more than four-fifths of a second faster than 2011 Travers Stakes (G1) winner Golden Ticket completed the same distance earlier on the card. When a 3-year-old in January outperforms an older, more mature Grade 1 winner, it’s time to take notice.
(Click here to view the 2013 Derby Leaderboard)
Running style: Itsmyluckyday’s high cruising speed combined with his willingness to rate behind the pace and accelerate on his jockey’s cue is a valuable asset when it comes to succeeding on longer, two-turn races such as the U.S. classics. We’ve seen previous recent Kentucky Derby winners, like Smarty Jones, Barbaro, and I’ll Have Another, whose ability to comfortably track close to the leader on the first Saturday in May gave them first jump on their rivals and led to career-defining victories. This type of running style definitely rates a positive for the Derby, and, in fact, all three of the U.S. classics.
Connections: Eddie Plesa Jr. won the 2009 Holy Bull Stakes (run in April that year) with Hey Byrn, who went on to finish seventh in that year’s Preakness Stakes (G1). A member of the Calder Race Course Hall of Fame, Plesa has been a fixture near the top of the Calder trainer standings for more than 20 years and has won multiple leading trainer titles. The son of jockey-trainer Eddie Plesa Sr., Plesa Jr. earned his 2,000th career win in April 2012. Plesa Jr.’s top horses in his career include Grade 1 winner Three Ring and multiple graded stakes winner Gottcha Gold, who was the runner-up in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Eddie Plesa Jr.’s wife, Laurie, owns Itsmyluckyday in partnership with Trilogy Stable, the Florida-based racing operation of David and Olga Melin and Marion Montanari.
“Everybody’s excited because of the Kentucky Derby. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in that,” Plesa said. “I know [for] Marion Montanari and David Melin, this is on their bucket list.”
Itsmyluckyday has been ridden by four different jockeys in his career. Elvis Trujillo was aboard for the first time in the Holy Bull.
ITSMYLUCKYDAY (OUTSIDE) BROKE THE TRACK RECORD IN THE HOLY BULL
Photo courtesy Coglianese Photos/Eleanor Gustafson
Pedigree: Itsmyluckyday is from the second crop of 2007 champion older male Lawyer Ron, whose best distance was 1 1/8 miles. He won the 2006 Arkansas Derby (G2) and 2007 Oaklawn Handicap (G2), Whitney Handicap (G1) and Woodward Stakes (G1) at that distance, and finished second by a neck to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in 2007. Lawyer Ron’s first crop included Grade 1 winner Drill and graded stakes winner Stealcase, third in last year’s Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1). Off to a solid start at stud, Lawyer Ron’s second crop is his final one as he died from complications related to colic surgery in July 2009.
Stakes-placed winner Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court, is the dam (mother) of Itsmyluckyday. Viva La Slew placed in a stakes sprinting when she was two and won a race at a mile. Itsmyluckyday’s second dam (maternal grandmother), Viva La Viva, was unraced but his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Viva Sec, by Secretariat, was a multiple stakes winner sprinting. Notable members from this family include French classic winner Astronomer Royal and 1999 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G1) and Florida Derby (G1) winner Vicar.