Sebastian Madrid has had a lucrative association with GOURMET DINNER (Trippi), riding the Steve Standridge-trained colt to four victories in seven starts while earning more than $900,000 in purses for Our Sugar Bear Stable. Yet, no mount is safe on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Ramon Dominguez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey of 2010, has been summoned from New York to replace Madrid for Saturday's $400,000 Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
"Sebastian did a great job with the horse; he's one of the reasons we're in the position we're in with him," Standridge said. "But the leading rider in the country became available. It's strictly business."
There is always jockeying for position on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and journeyman riders are always vulnerable when an elite jockey, such as Dominguez, is available.
"He's a colt that needs a strong rider, and he's a colt that really runs from the whip," Standridge said. "Everybody knows how Ramon can use a whip, so we thought it would be a perfect match."
Gourmet Dinner will need a strong ride from Dominguez to prevail in the Fountain of Youth, in which he will clash with TO HONOR AND SERVE (Bernardini), the 8-5 morning-line favorite who will be making his seasonal debut after a pair of victories in the Nashua S. (G2) and Remsen S. (G2); and SOLDAT (War Front), who is rated second at 2-1 after winning an allowance at Gulfstream by more than 10 lengths. Standridge, whose colt is rated third at 5-1, will be making his second start of 2011 after finishing third in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream on January 30.
"I think the race sets up perfectly for us with Soldat in the 'one' hole and To Honor and Serve being on the outside -- he's going to have to use him a little bit to get position," he said. "I think those two will be running one-two and set it up for us."
Gourmet Dinner has been training brilliantly at Gulfstream since the Holy Bull and tuned up on Wednesday with a three-furlong bullet workout in :34 4/5.
"We just kind of let him do what he wanted, and he did it, believe it or not, very easily," Standridge said. "He's a good horse, and good horses do that."
The bay colt never showed such explosiveness while training and racing at Calder last year.
"Even though he won his first three starts and won the first two legs of the Stallion Stakes and was second in the last one, he did not like that surface. You had to start riding on this horse at the five-eighths pole at Calder," Standridge said.
"He was just good enough to beat those horses at Calder, but he did not like that track."
Gourmet Dinner won his debut at Calder last July, scoring by a length over Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno), the winner of last weekend's Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds. He went on to win the Dr. Fager and the Affirmed divisions of the Florida Stallion S. before finishing second in the In Reality, the final leg of the series at Calder.
"When we got him off that track at Calder and took him to Louisiana (for the Delta Downs Jackpot [G3]), that's when we realized he was a nice horse, because he got a hold of the surface," Standridge said. "We put blinkers on him, which I'm sure helped him a little bit. But once we got him on a tighter surface, then he just exploded."
In his first race outside Calder, Gourmet Dinner burst into this year's Kentucky Derby picture while winning the $1 million Delta Jackpot by more than two lengths and earning enough in graded-stakes earnings to clinch a spot in the starting gate for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The Florida-bred colt was subsequently shipped to Hollywood Park to run in the CashCall Futurity (G1), in which he finished fourth after an extremely wide trip over the synthetic Cushion Track surface.
"It was more the trip. I think he handled the Poly fine. He got pinched at the break. Sebastian moved him too early down the backside to get him in position," Standridge said. "He ran his race; he made a tremendous move; he should have been second that day; but getting pinched at the break and losing his position got him beat that day, not the track."
In the Holy Bull, Gourmet Dinner was no match for Dialed In (Mineshaft), but wasn't helped by a slow start from the 1 post position.
"It was the post position; it was not the horse. The 'one' is the kiss of death going a mile," Standridge said. "He ran his race that day. I don't know if he was going to beat Dialed In, but he should have been an easy second that day, if he'd been in any other post."
Having already earned $700,000 in graded-stakes earnings and a place in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, Gourmet Dinner is a valuable commodity.
"We've had a lot of offers, and a lot of them have gotten real close, but we just haven't got the deal done," Standridge said.
The Kentucky Derby, if Gourmet Dinner is still in his stable, would be a dream destination for his trainer.
"It's pretty exciting to think about. You have to be extremely lucky," he said. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime deal to have a horse good enough to run in the Derby. I think it's more luck than anything. This is a legitimate Derby horse and he's just a homebred from Ocala."
A victory in the Fountain of Youth, though, could prompt an owner with Derby Fever to make Our Sugar Bear Stable an offer it can't refuse.
A win Saturday would also make Gourmet Dinner eligible for the Preakness 5.5 bonus series, which would require him to win the Florida Derby (G1) on April 3 to have a chance to win $5.5 million in bonuses for his connections with a victory in the Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico on May 21.