Quality Road, Dunkirk Keep on Edge

Quality Road and Dunkirk, 1,2 in their March 28 match in the Grade 1 Blackberry Florida Derby, put in workouts Friday morning toward what their connections hope will be their next meeting, the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

Richard Evans’ Quality Road finished 1¾ lengths ahead of Dunkirk in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, a race that appears in the past performances of 21 Kentucky Derby winners since its inception in 1952.

Quality Road left his Palm Meadows training base for New York last week and, in his first workout for trainer Jimmy Jerkens since returning to New York, breezed five furlongs at Belmont in 1:02.19, the 10th quickest of the 18 to work the distance.

Still stabled at Palm Meadows, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Dunkirk breezed a half-mile in 48 4/5 for trainer Todd Pletcher in his first workout since finishing a game second to Quality Road.

The roan/gray colt by Unbridled’s Song, purchased for $3.7 million at the Keeneland September yearling sales, was the 11-10 favorite in the Florida Derby after two impressive victories earlier in the meet as the favorite in each to launch his career.

Dunkirk ranks high with most observers’ list of leading Kentucky Derby (G1) prospects, but fans and his connections will have to wait and see if his $150,000 in graded-stakes earnings from the Florida Derby will be enough to get a berth in the field limited to 20.

Lezcano & Trujillo Riding Toward Goals at Gulfstream

Jose Lezcano’s position atop the jockey standings has him on the verge of securing the 2009 riding title at Gulfstream Park.

Meanwhile, Elvis Trujillo remains five wins short of achieving the 1,000 career-victory plateau.

Entering Friday's card with two weeks remaining in the meet, Lezcano leads the standings with 55 victories ahead of Kent Desormeaux (48) second, John Velazquez (47) third and Julian Leparoux (45) fourth. All three high-profile rivals relocated to Keeneland last weekend.

Lezcano, a 23-year-old native of Panama, intends to stick around Hallandale Beach through the end of the meet in hopes of capturing his first riding title at Gulfstream Park.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Lezcano, whose mounts have total purse earnings of over $1.7 million during the meet. “To compete with stars like Johnny and Desormeaux and have a chance at such an accomplishment is pretty special, especially here. You always want to go up against the best no matter the sport and these guys are certainly the best.”

Lezcano has won riding titles at Tampa Bay Downs and Monmouth Park, the latter coming last year when he unseated Joe Bravo, the reigning title-holder at Monmouth Park since 2003. Lezcano went on to capture the title at Meadowlands in the fall before competing among the top five at Gulfstream Park since the beginning of the meet.

Lezcano launched his U.S. career at Gulfstream Park in 2004, and scored his 1,000th-career victory aboard 3-year-old Calabria with a 7½-length score here on Fri., Feb. 13. He finished third in the 2008 standings here behind Eibar Coa and Velazquez.

Lezcano’s first career victory in the U.S. came here five years ago aboard Cloudy Gray and he rode Einstein to victory in the 2008 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) early in the season before winning the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 aboard Maram.

Lezcano is slated to ride Sackatoga Stable'’s 5-year-old mare Pastel Gal for trainer Barclay Tagg in Saturday’s $50,000 South Beach Stakes after the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid posted a pair of allowance victories over the course earlier in the meet.

Lezcano will be at Keeneland on Apr. 24 and Arlington Park on Apr. 25 before heading back to Monmouth for the rest of the spring and summer to defend his title.

Jockey Elvis Trujillo apparently doesn’t keep regular track of his total winning numbers, but the anticipation of reaching the 1,000-career victory plateau is enough for the 25-year-old Panamanian jockey to take notice.

“Honestly I didn’t know that was the case,” said Trujillo, who ranked seventh in the Gulfstream jockey standings going into Friday’s card with 39 winners. “But it goes without saying it’s a great feeling to know you've reached such a number. One thousand is a big number, so it would be special.”

Trujillo won his first career championship at Calder in 2007 after riding Augustin Stable’s future Eclipse champion filly Forever Together to victory in the Forward Gal Stakes (G2) for trainer Jonathan Sheppard earlier that year at Gulfstream.

Trujillo, 25, recalls winning his first career U.S. race at Hollywood Park eight years ago. “I won by a nose with one of (trainer) Wesley’s (Ward) horses.”

Trujillo is still undecided whether to stay on in South Florida and ride at Calder or return to Monmouth Park where he finished seventh last summer behind Lezcano.

McPeek Leads Pletcher by One in Gulfstream Trainers’ Title Chase

The day-in-day-out competition for leading trainer honors at the Gulfstream meet appears likely to go into the final days of the session with Ken McPeek leading defending champion Todd Pletcher by one (29-28) going into Friday’s program.

McPeek, bidding for his first Gulfstream title, won a race Thursday, at Keeneland where he had sent out Dixiana Stable’s 3-year-old filly War Kill for an upset victory in the $150,000 Beaumont Stakes (G2) on Wednesday after the daughter of War Chant won a Gulfstream allowance in her previous start.

McPeek is closing in on the 1,000-career victory milestone with 991 winners going into Friday’s action. Pletcher is bidding for a sixth consecutive Gulfstream meet title. McPeek has runners entered in seven races here over this three-day weekend while Pletcher has horses in six races.

Trainer Wesley Ward ranks fourth in the Gulfstream standings with 19 winners, including 2-year-old filly Callipygian Dream’s debut victory in Thursday’s second race. The daughter of Halo’s Image gave Ward a sweep of the three 2-year-old races carded at this meet and he has won two of the three juvenile tests run so far at Keeneland, finishing second in the other.