When Casey’s On Call made his 3-year-old debut in a $75,000 claiming race Feb. 19 at Gulfstream Park, his connections were not thinking about the Kentucky Derby trail.
Trainer Alec Fehr was.
The 42-year-old Canadian-based trainer convinced owner Terry Hamilton to claim the son of Gimmeawink. Six weeks later they are hoping to run away with the biggest prize of the season as BlackBerry Presents the $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) Saturday.
Fehr had his eye on Casey’s On Call, who at the time was owned by Frank Calabrese, because he had been trying to get another 3-year-old owned by Hamilton named Paso Doble into a hard-to-fill allowance race.
“Every time the race would come up, we were the only two horses who would enter,” said Fehr. “We decided to wait, but I took a close look at their horse and when he showed up in a claiming race we took a shot.”
Casey’s On Call has three wins, including his 4½-length tally in that claiming race in his one start for trainer Wesley Ward. He had finished sixth in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) on Nov. 1 at Churchill Downs when he threw a shoe and developed a quarter crack.
With his new charge coming off the huge win and armed with the knowledge of the repaired hoof, Fehr circled the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) run on turf here on Mar. 14 on his calendar. That plan turned into a debacle.
“Things went from bad to worse that day,” said Fehr of the nine-furlong race where he eventually finished fifth. “I couldn’t put the tack on him. I’ve never had a horse act up as badly as he acted in the paddock. Then he goes out there and breaks through the gate just as they were about to open. We’re just drawing a line through the race.”
With Fehr’s hope to earn some graded-stakes earnings in the Palm Beach by the boards, Saturday’s Florida Derby becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.
“I would think we have to finish third at least to go forward,” said Fehr. “This is our one last shot.”
Barbaro’s Brother Nicanor to Run Saturday
The bar has always been set high for Lael Stable’s 3-year-old Nicanor as a full-brother to 2006 Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Barbaro, who was undefeated through those races before suffering a tragic injury shortly after the start of the Preakness Stakes (G1).
While Barbaro was an undefeated, emerging star on Florida Derby Day three years ago, Nicanor will go into Saturday’s fifth race allowance on the 58th Florida Derby program as a maiden after two starts, but likely a solid favorite to win the one-mile test for trainer Michael Matz.
Nicanor’s debut here on Jan. 31 was eventful as he grabbed a quarter leaving the gate and never reached contention, finishing 10th of 12. The son of Dynaformer out of La Ville Rouge came back with a much improved performance last out on Mar. 7 to finish second by a length behind Custom for Carlos, who also runs here Saturday in the $150,000 Swale Stakes (G2).
Lime Rickey Switching Surfaces for Wood Memorial
Dogwood Stable’s Lime Rickey has been below the radar this Triple Crown season with excuse-filled trips on the turf at Gulfstream Park, but that could change if the 3-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid finds success on the dirt in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on Sat., Apr. 4.
After finishing second in the three turf stakes at Gulfstream for sophomores, Lime Rickey will be a wild card in New York’s 1 1/8 miles Kentucky Derby (G1) prep.
“It’s worth a try,” said trainer Frank Alexander. “He’s hard to gauge because he’s not a good work horse on the dirt. He’s not a big work horse on either surface. He does what he has to do out there. He’s not the kind to go in 59 so you would know for sure he’s a dirt horse, but I do know he will get the distance.”
Lime Rickey was a length short of El Crespo in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) Mar. 14 in his most recent start. He was also 1¼ lengths short of Duke of Homberg in the Hallandale Beach Stakes on Feb. 14 and had a troubled trip while a half-length behind Jack Spratt in the Dania Beach Stakes on Jan. 17. He has never raced on dirt in his nine-race career.
Two Wins Separate Top Five in Gulfstream Jockey Standings
Going into Florida Derby weekend at Gulfstream Park jockeys Kent Desormeaux and Jose Lezcano are tied for the lead with 43 victories apiece while John R. Velazquez and Julien Leparoux are only one back in a tie for third with 42 wins each. Alan Garcia ranks fifth with 41 tallies.
The top four ride here on Florida Derby Day while Garcia will be in action in Dubai with his principal mount Shadwell Stable’s 5-year-old Albertus Maximus, the favorite in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1). Garcia rode the son of Albert the Great to victory in the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream on Jan. 31 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
In addition to Garcia, Gulfstream-based jockeys Edgar Prado, Cornelio Velasquez and Joe Bravo also have mounts on the Dubai World Cup program. Velazquez travels to New Mexico Sunday to ride WinStar Farm’s 3-year-old Advice in the $800,000 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher and Ken McPeek remain deadlocked atop the trainers’ leader board for the Gulfstream meet at 25 wins each, followed by Nick Zito third with 19 and Wesley Ward fourth at 15 after sending out two winners on Wednesday. Pletcher is bidding for a sixth consecutive Gulfstream meet championship.