HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Owner/Trainer Steve Budhoo’s Eye of a Jedi is scheduled to carry highweight of 124 pounds in Saturday’s $60,000 Miami Beach at Gulfstream Park, where the graded-stakes winner will make his second start off a layoff in the mile overnight handicap for 3-year-olds and up.
Although he is hardly overlooking Saturday’s extremely challenging race, Budhoo has a far more ambitious goal in mind for his overachieving gelding.
“I’d like to take a shot at the big guys,” said Budhoo, referring to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park in January, “but I know I have to take it one race at a time.”
Running his 6-year-old gelding against the best horses in the country in the Pegasus might seem like a pipe dream to many, but Budhoo has every right to dream big after watching Eye of the Jedi’s development from the horse nobody else wanted into an ultra reliable graded-stakes performer.
Budhoo went to the 2016 Keeneland September sale looking to find that ever-rare diamond-in-the-rough – a universally overlooked yearling with the potential to outrun his less than fashionable pedigree.
The native of Jamaica returned to South Florida, where he has trained a small stable since 2003, with a son of Eye of the Leopard, the 2009 Queen’s Plate winner, and Sea Song’s Grace, an Elusive Quality mare who was winless in three starts in Southern California.
When Eye of a Jedi debuted with a sixth-place finish in a $40,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Park West eleven months later, Budhoo’s winning bid of $1500 looked like fair-market value – at best.
Two starts later during Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet, Eye of a Jedi scored a 57-1 upset victory in a maiden special weight race, providing his owner/trainer with hope for his future.
The Kentucky-bred gelding turned out to be a most dependable check earner in allowance and overnight-stakes company the next couple years before maturing into a graded-stakes winner during the 2020-2021 Championship Meet at Gulfstream.
“He always gives 110 percent,” Budhoo said.
After finishing second in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and Fred W. Hooper (G3), Eye of a Jedi broke through to capture the 1 1/8-mile Ghostzapper (G3) on the Florida Derby (G1) undercard March by 5 ½ lengths, giving Budhoo his first graded-stakes success as a trainer.
A plan to run in the Pimlico Special (G3) on Preakness weekend in May was scrapped due to coronavirus concerns. Instead, Budhoo opted to give his bargain-basement purchase a summer vacation.
Eye of a Jedi returned to action at Gulfstream in a mile option claiming allowance Sept. 8, finishing second as the 4-5 favorite after uncharacteristically pressing or setting the pace before coming up short in the stretch.
“He’s really a two-turn horse. If you let him get away from you, it’s hard to take him back,” said Budhoo, who trains a stable of eight horses that he also owns. “He is a horse that needs to come from off the pace.”
Marcos Meneses, who was aboard for runner-up finishes in the Harlan’s Holiday and Fred W. Hooper, will get reacquainted with Eye of a Jedi Saturday.
Victoria’s Ranch LLC’s King Guillermo, the other graded-stakes winner in the Miami Beach field, is scheduled to make his first start since finishing eighth and last in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 6.
The Juan Avila-trained 4-year-old son of Uncle Mo captured the 2020 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G2) at Oaklawn before going to the sidelines for seven months.
King Guillermo will carry 119 pounds, including jockey Samy Camacho.
Rodney Lundock’s Pro Quality, Jacks or Better Farm Inc.’s Shivaree and Harold Queen’s Noble Drama, who finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the recent $125,000 FSS Wildcat Heir at a mile, are slated to return in the Miami Beach.
Luca Panici is named on Ralph Catanese-trained Pro Quality, who will carry 121 pounds. Ralph Nicks-trained Shivaree, the 2020 Florida Derby (G1) runner-up, will carry 122 pounds, including Jesus Rios. Emisael Jaramillo has the return mount on David Fawkes-trained Noble Drama, a veteran multiple-stakes winner who will carry 123 pounds.
John Fanelli and partners’ Girolamo’s Attack, who most recently finished eighth in an Aug. 18 optional claiming allowance at Saratoga for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.; Glen Fagan’s Glory of Florida, who unseated his rider last time following an optional claiming allowance win for trainer Laura Cazares; and IAB Stables and Walter Fralick’s Quenane, a veteran stakes performer trained by Tamara Levy; round out the field.