To help fill the 1 1/8-mile allowance prep that he wanted for Dialed In (Mineshaft) in advance of the April 3 Florida Derby (G1), trainer Nick Zito entered another runner, the four-year-old EQUESTRIO (Elusive Quality). In an ironic turn of events, it was that second-stringer Equestrio who handed Dialed In his first career loss in Sunday's 4TH race at Gulfstream Park.
"The horse that beat him isn't a bad horse," Zito said. "It was two turns too; they were older horses; and there was no speed in the race. I would have liked to win, but I have to be happy. It was a mile and an eighth over the track. He made the mile and an eighth."
Dialed In had captured both of his previous starts, a Churchill Downs maiden in November and the January 30 Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream, with electric rallies from far off the pace. Making his two-turn debut here, the prohibitive 1-5 favorite raced at the back of the compact five-horse field, but with a slow early pace on tap, he naturally found himself much closer than he'd been in the past.
Indeed, Dialed In was only 2 1/2 lengths behind the front-running Reprized Halo (Halo's Image) through fractions of :24 4/5 and :49 2/5. Equestrio stalked in second beneath Jose Lezcano, who drove his mount forward to engage Reprized Halo after six furlongs in a pedestrian 1:13 4/5 on the fast track.
Equestrio put the pacesetter away turning for home and quickly spurted clear into the stretch. Meanwhile, Dialed In split foes to commence his bid for regular rider Julien Leparoux. But Equestrio was streaking to a three-length margin while getting the mile in 1:38 1/5.
Just when it was becoming apparent that Dialed In wasn't closing the gap, Equestrio suddenly swerved to the outside in deep stretch. He drifted out across his stablemate's path, but was still in the clear and didn't hamper Dialed In. As Lezcano was trying to get the wayward Equestrio reorganized, Dialed In was gaining ground. Despite his quirkiness, Equestrio preserved a half-length advantage at the wire.
The 3-1 second choice, Equestrio stopped the teletimer in 1:51 and paid $8.40, $2.60 and $2.10. Dialed In pulled 4 1/4 lengths ahead of third-placer Valerius (Aldebaran), and William's Kitten (Kitten's Joy) and Reprized Halo rounded out the order of finish.
"We got a trip, a good teaching trip, but there was no pace unfortunately," Leparoux said. "(In Dialed In's) first two races the half was :45 and :46. This race it was almost :50, so he's going to be closer.
"It's horse racing -- he's going to have horses next to him in the (Kentucky) Derby (G1), so he's got to learn that. The horse on the outside (Valerius) made me be patient (awaiting a seam on the far turn), that's all. It was a good race."
Leparoux added that Dialed In wasn't bothered by Equestrio's ducking out.
"He was clear, I don't know what happened," Leparoux said. "He just went from the rail, got scared or something. He just went out, but he was clear and my horse didn't react to anything, so that was good."
Owned by Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable, Equestrio was likewise trying two turns for the first time in this spot. The chestnut broke his maiden at third asking last fall in a 6 1/2-furlong dash at Churchill Downs. His two subsequent starts came over Gulfstream's one-turn mile, capturing an entry-level allowance on January 9 and most recently winding up fourth in a second-level optional claimer on February 12. Equestrio's mark now reads 6-3-0-0, $86,630.
Zito still has sights set on the Florida Derby, over this same track and trip, for Dialed In.
"You know the Florida Derby is going to have more speed," said Zito, who saddled Ice Box (Pulpit) to a victory in last year's Florida Derby.
"If he has a good month, we'll still look at that."