Co-favorites Itsmyluckyday and Moreno battled shoulder to shoulder through the entire length of stretch before Itsmyluckyday prevailed to win the $600,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) by half a length at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 30 (VIDEO).
With the victory, his first in a grade I, Itsmyluckyday turned the tables on Moreno after finishing second to the front-runner in the Whitney Invitational (gr. I) Aug. 2. The victory also culminated a season-long comeback for Itsmyluckyday after fracturing his pelvis in a race last year.
Junior Alvarado, the rider aboard Moreno, lodged a complaint against Paco Lopez and Itsmyluckyday after the two horses bumped repeatedly in the final furlong. Stewards reviewed the stretch run and ruled there would be no change in the order of finish.
"I got bumped four or five times," complained Alvarado, saying Moreno lost his action in deep stretch. "My horse was running good and kept getting bumped. In the last part, he got bumped and pulled himself out of the race."
"(Moreno) came over and bumped into my horse," countered Lopez. "I didn't bump that horse."
Eddie Plesa Jr. trains Itsmyluckyday for Trilogy Stable and his wife, Laurie Plesa. The dark bay colt is a 4-year-old son of Lawyer Ron bred in Kentucky by Rob Whiteley's Liberation Farm and Pam and Jim Robinson's Brandywine Farm out of the Doneraile Court mare Viva La Slew.
"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," Plesa said after his first Woodward win. "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, or that he was the best horse today."
Itsmyluckyday, the slight second choice behind Moreno at odds of 5-2, completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in a time of 1:48.84 on a fast track.
Prayer for Relief finished third in the field of nine older horses.
Moreno, as expected took the lead shortly after the break but Itsmyluckyday, adding blinkers for the first time while breaking from the rail, did not let the pacesetter get far away. The coupled entry of Long River and Romansh also stalked the leaders as Moreno stepped quarter mile fractions of :24.01, :47.41, and 1:10.94 for the first six furlongs.
With Prayer for Relief advancing into third around the far turn, Moreno, with Itsmyluckyday gradually left the others behind and it came down to those two as they fought it out through the lane. There was very little between the two rivals after coming together just past the eighth pole, completing the mile in 1:35.53. But in the final couple of strides, Itsmyluckyday, under right-handed urging from Lopez, gained the slight edge.
Plesa added blinkers because he felt Itsmyluckyday was losing focus at key points of his recent races, including the Whitney. He said the move worked out.
"We didn't want to give Moreno a breather," the trainer said. "We didn't want to have to depend on anybody else, and the outcome was Moreno ran a fantastic race. He just came up a little bit short today against us under different circumstances, and I think they're two great horses."
Plesa said he was not concerned about possibly being disqualified.
"No, not at all. It never, never entered my mind," he said. "I didn't think there was a chance in the world."
Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno, said he wasn't sure who was to blame for the bumping.
"The horse ran his race," he said of Moreno. "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."
It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Prayer in Relief in third, followed by 3-1 third choice Zivo , the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) winner whose six-race winning streak was halted. Then came Stephanoatsee , Last Gunfighter , Long River, Romansh, and Norumbega . Micromanage scratched.
Since winning a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park in April, Itsmyluckyday has won four of his past five starts, the only loss coming by 1 1/4 lengths to Moreno in the Whitney. Itsmyluckyday stalked the winner that day as well but could not quite close the gap.
Last year Itsmyluckyday won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second in the Florida Derby (gr. I). After a 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), he bounced back with a fine second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). After skipping the Belmont he returned in the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) last June at Monmouth Park when he pulled up with what was later determined to be a cracked pelvis.
Itsmyluckyday was out of action until this March when he returned with a fourth-place effort in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II), and he has been nearly unbeatable since. He captured the Salvatore Mile (gr. III) in his start prior to the Whitney at his home track, Monmouth. With his latest win, which was his sixth stakes victory, Itsmyluckyday improved his career line to 9-4-1 in 19 races with earnings of $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. "So, between last year's first half and this year's second half, we're going to have a great year."
Carrying 120 pounds, Itsmyluckyday paid $7.70, $3.70, and $3, keying a chalky $22.80 exacta with Moreno, who returned $4.20 and $3. Prayer for Relief paid $6 to show.
Itsmyluckyday is the second foal produced by his dam Viva La Slew, selling for $47,000 as a Keeneland September yearling purchase by Nick J. Hines, agent in 2011. Plesa purchased Itsmyluckyday for $110,000 for David Melin from the consignment of Eisaman Equine, agent, at the 2012 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March 2-year-old sale.