Like the mythological hero for whom he is named, Padua Stables' ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon) didn't get home in the most straightforward fashion in Saturday's $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G3), but the Tom Albertrani pupil did eventually arrive at his destination in the nick of time. Despite appearing beaten when he retreated from contention turning for home, and despite hovering a while behind horses in midstretch, the highly-regarded chestnut stayed on strongly between rivals to nip Schoolyard Dreams (Stephen Got Even) in the final stride.
Padua Stables' Satish Sanan had endured a Tampa Bay Derby photo before, only to come out on the wrong side of it. Sanan co-owned Any Given Saturday, who lost on the bob to future Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Street Sense here in 2007.
"I honestly thought back to the Any Given Saturday--Street Sense; I thought we'd lost again," Sanan said.
"And Rajiv (Maragh, the winning jockey) just told me that he thought he was beaten. He said he would have taken a dead heat! But the guys next to us, who are local, they told me right away, 'You won.' They see it every single day, and sometimes you can't really tell, especially because he was in between the two horses. It was very hard to see, but his nose was just right there."
When the gate opened, 3-2 favorite Super Saver (Maria's Mon) sprinted to the front in his seasonal reappearance and carved out splits of :23 2/5 and :47. Odysseus stalked in second in his stakes debut, with the newly-blinkered Uptowncharlybrown (Limehouse) a close third along the rail. Schoolyard Dreams, who had been stalking in fourth, made a bold move to put his head in front of Super Saver through six furlongs in 1:11 3/5. By that point, Odysseus came under pressure from regular rider Maragh, and he appeared to be spinning his wheels as he dropped back.
Schoolyard Dreams maintained his narrow advantage over Super Saver for the length of the stretch, but he was confronted by challengers. A rallying Gleam of Hope (City Zip) threatened on the outside, but his bid eventually stalled. Meanwhile, Odysseus kept plugging away and remained on the cusp of striking distance.
After hinting that he might split Gleam of Hope and Schoolyard Dreams, Odysseus wound up tacking more toward the inside, working his way between Super Saver and Schoolyard Dreams. Still obscured by his nearest rivals, Odysseus finally found his best stride approaching the wire and nailed Schoolyard Dreams by a nose. The 2-1 second choice completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:44 1/5 and paid $6, $3.40 and $2.40.
Maragh recapped his view aboard Odysseus.
"Getting past the wire I said to Jeremy (Rose, jockey of Schoolyard Dreams), 'I think you won it Jeremy.' He thought so too," Maragh said. "So it was a surprise when they put our number up.
"We got exactly the position I wanted early, and like last time (his stunning allowance win on February 17), he relaxed for me. I wanted to wait with him and not hook anybody too soon, so when we got to the far turn I asked him to move up and I thought we were in charge, but suddenly a horse swept by us on the outside.
"I was surprised, and so was the horse, and he hesitated and were suddenly behind horses we might have been in front. But he showed his class and got running again. I wasn't sure we were going find a path, and then it opened up just a few yards from the finish, and like I said, I didn't think we had won. He is just getting better and better!"
"I was ecstatic," Albertrani said of the photo-finish verdict. "I really believed that we might have just come short by a bob. I thought he needed another jump, but that's the way it worked out."
Schoolyard Dreams, the fourth choice at 5-1, returned $5 and $2.80 for his heartbreaking near-miss. Super Saver checked in another half-length back in third, yielding $2.40. The exotics totaled $33.80 (exacta), $77.40 (trifecta) and $404 (7-5-6-3 superfecta) with the 42-1 Gleam of Hope in fourth. Uptowncharlybrown, who found himself short of room for a time, ultimately faded to fifth. Slammy Boy (Grand Slam) and Tuvia's Force (Mineshaft) rounded out the order of finish.
Odysseus now sports a mark of 4-3-1-0 with $219,920 in earnings. Runner-up to Moojab (Smarty Jones) after a troubled start in his career bow at Aqueduct last October, he broke his maiden in determined fashion next time out at Gulfstream Park in January. Odysseus ventured to Tampa to get a two-turn debut over the track, when he annihilated his opponents by 15 lengths and stamped himself as a Kentucky Derby hopeful.
"I think the sky could be the limit with this horse," Albertrani said. "He showed how he's got such determination to win. If I used my best judgment in his first race, I probably should have run him a little longer than three-quarters, and he'd still be undefeated. He's just a very game horse, and he's really got a will to win."
Bred by Haymarket Farm and Lakemont Stable in Kentucky, Odysseus sold for $110,000 as a Saratoga yearling, then went to his current connections for $250,000 as an OBS March two-year-old. He is out of the winning Conquistador Cielo mare Persimmon Hill, who has also produced multiple stakes victress Once Around (You and I), the stakes-placed Persimmon Honey (Colonial Affair) and a yearling filly named Ctimene (Consolidator).
Odysseus' second dam, Rose O'Riley (Nijinsky II), is a full sister to champion turf female De La Rose and Grade 1 winner Upper Nile. De La Rose went on to become the dam of Grade 1 victor Conquistarose (Conquistador Cielo) and Grade 3 queen De La Devil (Devil's Bag). This is also the family of multiple Group 1 hero Spartacus (Danehill), Hong Kong Derby winner Johan Cruyff (Danehill), and further back, champion grass horse Bowl Game (Tom Rolfe).
Albertrani spoke of his Kentucky Derby plans.
"That's our target, to get this horse to the Derby," the horseman said. "We think he's certainly good enough to belong with that group, but we'll see how he trains in the next two weeks and make some decisions.
"We'll see if we need to run him back again or just sit and wait. It takes a lot of pressure off to have the graded earnings at this point. If he had been second, we'd be forced to run him run him back again, and we don't want to squeeze him too much for the Derby if that's the case.
"He's had three races pretty close to each other, so we have to decide after we see how he comes out of this race."