The victory was the third in four career starts by the Nick Zito-trained son of Mineshaft, who closed as the 5-1 second choice to unbeaten Uncle Mo in the third and final pool of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
LaPenta and Zito, who won last year’s Florida Derby with Ice Box, are the first owner and trainer to win back-to-back runnings of the Florida Derby wince Calumet Farm and Jimmy Jones won the race with Gen. Duke and Tim Tam in 1957-58. Zito joins John Veitch, now the chief steward for the state of Kentucky, as the only trainers to win three renewals of the Florida Derby.
Ice Box finished second to WinStar Farm’s Super Saver in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
“I haven’t been this emotional since (1991 Kentucky Derby winner) Strike the Gold,” Zito told HRTV after his latest Florida Derby victory. “Once in a while a special horse comes around, and he’s a special horse.
“It has been a speed-favoring track all day and he defied the track. I hope God stays with him one more race.”
To Honor and Serve, who stalked Shackleford in the early going, faded to third, and previously unbeaten Flashpoint finished fourth. The Florida Derby order of finish was completed by Soldat, Arch Traveler, Stay Thirsty and Bowman’s Causeway.
Soldat was the 3-2 favorite following an impressive victory in the Fountain of Youth, but he was never in contention for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Alan Garcia.
“(Alan said) he just didn’t fire his A race today,” said McLaughlin. “He didn’t have much horse when he pulled him out.”
While McLaughlin searched for answers, Louisville-born trainer Dale Romans celebrated the near-upset by Shackleford, who had run a disappointing fifth in the Fountain of Youth but rebounded with an effort that puts him back in the mix for a start in the Kentucky when he returns to Churchill Downs, his home track.
“That’s a real tough beat,” said Romans. “We drew a line through his last race. We had no excuse for it. He came back and showed us he’s better than his last race showed. He just dug back in and galloped out real strong.”
The $150,000-added Swale Stakes (GIII) on the Florida Derby undercard will have no apparent impact on the Kentucky Derby, but victorious Travelin Man could be a major player in the $200,000 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII), which will be run on the April 30 “Opening Night” of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said E. Paul Robsham Stable’s son of Trippi would be pointed toward the one-mile Trial after an easy two-length victory under jockey John Velazquez in the seven-furlong Swale. Travelin Man covered the distance in 1:21.94 and has now won two of three starts, with a loss to Flashpoint in the Hutcheson (GII) being his lone setback.
“I don’t know that he’s limited to being just a sprinter,” Pletcher to the Courier-Journal’s Jennie Rees. “We’ll see as we let him stretch out a little bit next time.”
Panamanian import Indiano rallied for second, while Little Drama finished third.
EAST (Maryland, New York) / UNCLE MO’S FINAL WOOD WORK ‘PERFECT’ -- Repole Stable’s Uncle Mo, the 3-1 favorite in Pool 3 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager, tuned up for next week’s $1 million Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct with a “perfect” half-mile work on Sunday at Florida’s Palm Meadows.
That’s how trainer Todd Pletcher described the four-furlong move in :48.20, which was the second-fastest of 36 at the distance over a fast training surface. Jockey John Velazquez was aboard Uncle Mo, who worked in company with recent maiden winner Praetereo.
Owner Mike Repole told Daily Racing Form’s Dave Grening that he was at Pletcher’s side for the work.
“He doesn’t use the word perfect too much, but he said ‘perfect’,’ Repole said.
Uncle Mo is scheduled to fly to New York on Tuesday to continue preparations for the 1 1/8-mile race.
Others considered likely for the Wood include Norman Asbjornson and Toby’s Corner, the 2-3 finishers behind Repole’s Stay Thirsty in the Gotham (GIII); along with Duca, Isn’t He Perfect and Preachintothedevil.
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / JAYCITO TO STAY HOME FOR SANTA ANITA DERBY – Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who had toyed with the idea of sending Kentucky Derby contender Jaycito to New York for a run against Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, has opted to stay home and run the colt in Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI).
“I think he’s got a good chance to win the race,” Baffert said. “Our main concern is to have him ready for the next one. This should set him up perfect for the Kentucky Derby.”
Jaycito tuned up for the Santa Anita Derby with a Saturday work in which the San Felipe (GII) runner-up covered six furlongs in 1:13.40 over a “fast” track.
Also working Saturday was owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho’s San Felipe winner and likely Santa Anita Derby favorite Premier Pegasus. The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus worked a quick five furlongs in :59.20 under jockey Alonso Quinonez. The move was the fastest of 17 at the distance.
Along with Premier Pegasus and Jaycito, probable starters for the Santa Anita Derby include Robert B. Lewis (GII) winner Anthony’s Cross, Bench Points, Celestic Night, CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Comma to the Top, Indian Winter, Mr. Commons, Offlee Wild Boys and El Camino Real Derby (GIII) winner Silver Medallion.
SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / TRUMAN’S COMMANDER IN ARKANSAS DERBY PICURE – Although Rebel Stakes (GIII) winner The Factor looms as a strong favorite in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 16, it appears that there will be plenty of horses on hand at Oaklawn Park to test the favorite.
One is Truman’s Commander, who worked a sharp half-mile in :47 on Saturday at Florida’s Palm Meadows for new trainer Nick Zito. An impressive winner in his most recent start, Truman’s Commander joined Zito’s barn and was made a late nominee to the Triple Crown after Robert LaPenta purchased majority interest in the colt from Harry T. Rosenblum. The deal included a provision that the colt would return to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby.
Rosenblum’s godfather was President Harry Truman.
Also working his way back into the Arkansas Derby picture is Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation, who threw a fit in the starting gate prior to the Rebel and was scratched from the race..
Alternation worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Saturday at Oaklawn for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.