Itsmyluckyday turns tables on Moreno to win Grade 1 Woodward
By John Scheinman | 08/30/2014 08:40 PM ET
In the days leading up to the 61st running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward, trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said, "We're either going to get to the top of the ladder or not" with 4-year-old colt Itsmyluckyday.
Owned by Trilogy Stable and Plesa's wife, Laurie, Itsmyluckyday had finished second three times in Grade 1 races, most recently in a game challenge to Moreno on August 2 in the Grade 1 Whitney.
The two horses renewed their budding rivalry on Saturday, and this time, outfitted with blinkers, Itsmyluckyday engaged Moreno early rather than later, and after a rough stretch battle between the two, Plesa's colt reached the top of the ladder, winning the Woodward by a half-length at Saratoga Race Course.
Itsmyluckyday, who survived an inquiry and objection into the stretch run, completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:48.84. Runner-up Moreno finished 1 ½ lengths in front of Prrayer for Relief, who was followed by Zivo, Stephanoatsee, Last Gunfighter, Long River, Romansh and Norumbega.
The 5-2 second choice paid $7.70 for a $2 win bet.
For Plesa, 65, the victory was one of the top achievements of his career, which began under the guidance of his father, trainer Eddie Plesa Sr., and dates back to 1980. The Woodward was only his second Grade 1 victory, the other being the Acorn with Three Ring in 1999 at Belmont Park.
Plesa has long loved Itsmyluckyday, who finished second to Oxbow last year in the Preakness, and he believed the horse had a Grade 1 victory in him.
"It's like when you have a child that does something out of the ordinary, exceptional, that you know he could do; that's what it felt like," he said in the winner's circle. "I mean, horses aren't your children, but we take great pride in our horses; we take great pride in our craft. He did what he needed to do in a manner nobody would dispute was spot on and that he was the best horse today."
Plesa had not won a race at Saratoga since August 12, 2005, when he took a $20,000 claimer.
"This isn't a usual stop for me," he said. "I'm New Jersey and Florida. If you have something out of the ordinary, you'll bring them up here, but it's kind of my background. I'd rather be a big fish in a smaller pond than a small fish in a big pond. But when you have a horse like this, he takes you to wherever the big races are."
Itsmyluckyday dogged Moreno on his right flank through an opening quarter-mile in 24.01 seconds and a half-mile in 47.41. Nearing the far turn, Moreno briefly spurted away, but midway through the bend, Itsmyluckyday drew up to the leader on his outside.
The two locked in a ferocious battle with Itsmyluckyday, under jockey Paco Lopez, gaining a slight advantage at the eighth pole. The two bumped repeatedly as they fought to the wire.
Guillot accepted the defeat.
"Our horse got bounced up, bam-bam-bam," he said. "Who knows? The horse ran his race. Sometimes you run second, sometimes you win. It was Eddie's turn. My horse is consistent. He ran his race. What are you going to do? Go to bed, rest, get up in the morning and start all over again."
Itsmyluckyday had been a standout 3-year-old, winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull and finishing second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby before finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby. He rebounded with a second in the Preakness, but in his next start, in the Grade 3 Pegasus at Monmouth Park, he pulled up after suffering a minor pelvic fracture.
The colt resumed racing in March and soon won three straight; he now has won nine of 19 starts and earned $1,662,600.
"I told the owners, the partners, 'Get tied on. This is going to be as exciting a second half of the year as last year was the first half of the year," Plesa said.