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Plesa proud, and disappointed, following Itsmyluckyday's Florida Derby second
Itsmyluckyday was "110 percent" Sunday morning back in his stall in trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.'s Calder barn following his game runner-up effort as the 8-5 favorite under jockey Elvis Trujillo in Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby.
"I really wanted to win the Florida Derby," sighed Plesa, who trains Itsmyluckyday for the Trilogy Stable and his wife, Laurie. "I expected him to win and he didn't. Am I disappointed? Yes, but I'm also proud of him too. He's done everything we've asked.
"It would have meant so much to me and the other owners, but I was very pleased with his race and Orb was the best horse Saturday. As important as Saturday's race was to us, it wasn't the ultimate goal."
Orb settled in fifth in the 10-horse Florida Derby field around the first turn and along the backstretch, as Merit Man, making his first start around two turns, set the pace while pressed by Narvaez during sensible fractions of :24 3/5 and :48 2/5 for the first half-mile. Merit Man continued to show the way on the final turn, joined on the outside by Itsmyluckyday, who was sent three-wide around Narvaez by Trujillo, followed by Orb.
Itsmyluckyday, who captured the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in his last start on January 26, took the lead rounding into the homestretch as Merit Man fought back along the rail and Orb loomed as a danger on the outside. Itsmyluckyday opened up by a length in midstretch, only to be quickly passed by Orb, who drew off to his fourth-straight victory.
Itsmyluckyday finished second, 2 1/4 lengths clear of Merit Man, a 29-1 outsider ridden by Kent Desormeaux who finished five lengths ahead of Narvaez, the longest-priced starter at 103-1.
"I had my reasons to give him the 60-plus days between the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby and I still wouldn't change anything with having made that decision," Plesa said. "It may have made some difference in how he ran Saturday, but it was just a stepping stone.
"I believe he has the points (50) to get into the (Kentucky) Derby. I haven't thought a lot about when we'll take him up there (Churchill Downs), but I'd imagine probably about a week before."
A son of Lawyer Ron, Itsmyluckyday was making his fourth start of the Gulfstream meet in the Florida Derby. He finished an even fourth on turf in the Dania Beach on December 15, romped in the Gulfstream Park Derby by 6 3/4 lengths on New Year's Day and scored his biggest victory in the Holy Bull, defeating previously unbeaten 2012 Eclipse champion two-year-old Shanghai Bobby.
Shanghai Bobby was sent off the 2-1 second betting choice on Saturday under Rosie Napravnik, and was forwardly placed behind Merit Man before fading to fifth. Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning that the Harlan's Holiday colt, who suffered his second straight loss this year, exited the Florida Derby in good order.
However, the dark bay has only managed to earn 24 points in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby points system and likely would need more to qualify for the May 4 classic.
"We got crowded going into the first turn with everyone going for the same spot. It got a little rough going into the first turn," Pletcher said. "He was always kind of stuck on the inside with everyone jockeying for the same position. He seemed to be in a tough spot all the way around. Rosie said he just never really relaxed in that scenario.
"We'll see how he comes out of it before making any decisions for the future."
Merit Man carried his speed a lot farther than his odds would have suggested in the Florida Derby as he finished a clear third behind Orb and Itsmyluckyday in his first ever start beyond seven furlongs for trainer Bob Hess Jr.
"He's great this morning," Hess said Sunday from his Gulfstream barn. "I'm really proud of him. He got beat by two very good horses."
Hess isn't getting caught up in Kentucky Derby fever, though, and has no designs on the first leg of the Triple Crown for Merit Man.
"He ran a super race and got a Hall of Fame ride from Kent Desormeaux, but just got beat," the horseman remarked. "I have a lot of options, just not Kentucky Derby options.
"He had a good winter here and he will go to New York from here. There are a number of options we'll consider like the (Grade 2) Peter Pan (on May 11), which is a one-turn, mile-and-an-eighth at Belmont Park, the (Grade 2) Woody Stephens (on June 8), or even the Preakness (on May 18 at Pimlico) could be a possibility."
A Florida-bred by With Distinction, Merit Man had run twice at the Gulfstream meet prior to his good effort in the Florida Derby, winning the six-furlong Spectacular Bid on New Year's Day and finishing fourth in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Hutcheson on February 2. Hess suggested that attempting to rate the colt in the Hutcheson was likely a mistake.