Fly by Phil, a 23-1 longshot making his stakes debut, got the graded stakes season off to a rousing start when he ran down odds-on favorite Lost Aptitude in the final jump to win the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Jan. 1 at Calder Casino & Race Course in Florida.
A Gilbert G. Campbell homebred, Fly by Phil was also making his first start on turf in the nine-furlong Tropical Park Derby, the first North American graded stakes of the 2010 Thoroughbred racing season. The 3-year-old gelded son of Act of Duty won for Calder’s leading trainer, Kathleen O’Connell.
Ridden for the first time by Eduardo Nunez, Fly by Phil was never too far off the pace set by Lost Aptitude, who came in as the heavy favorite for trainer Dale Romans after romping in the Grand Canyon Handicap at Churchill Downs in November. Lost Aptitude had an uncontested lead in the early going while being chased by Bernie the Maestro, Fly by Phil, and Becky's Kitten. The son of Aptitude clicked off comfortable splits of :24.03, :50.16, 1:15.49, and 1:40.35 on the yielding going and took a half-length advantage into the stretch under Jon Court.
It looked as though Lost Aptitude was going to take his 10 rivals wire to wire after he continued his lead into deep stretch despite drifting out to the middle of the racetrack, but Fly by Phil never stopped tracking the leader and kept attacking from the outside, as did second choice Cat Park. Lost Aptitude and Fly by Phil were head-bobbing to the wire and it took a photo to give the edge to the longshot, who scored by a head.
The final time was 1:52.89. Cat Park was a length back in third.
“Even though I haven’t ridden this horse before, I have breezed him several times in the morning, so I know what he is like to ride,” Nunez said. “He was pretty headstrong going into the first turn, then he settled down a bit and we were actually in a perfect position on the backstretch. The favorite on the lead wasn’t stopping, so it was a matter of my horse finishing strong for me and he did.”
Fly by Phil raced four times as a 2-year-old in 2009, all of them on the Calder dirt. He was runner-up in his first two efforts before breaking his maiden by nearly 11 lengths Sept. 20 going one mile. On Dec. 11, Fly by Phil scored in allowance company by 2 1/2 lengths, letting O’Connell know he was ready for a stakes try.
“Although he had never run on turf, Mr. Campbell and I decided the timing was right and we’d give him a chance,” said O’Connell, who heads into the final day of the Calder meet ahead by two wins in her bid for her first training title. “I actually would have had much more confidence in his chances if the race had come off the turf, although this horse does have turf pedigree.
“We’ll look ahead now to the Sam Davis (gr. III, Feb. 13) at Tampa Bay, which has been in the plans for a while.”
Bred in Florida, Fly by Phil is out of the Deputy Minister mare True Mood. He now has earned $101,100.
The winner returned $49, $13, and $7.20 to his backers. Lost Aptitude completed an exacta (4-3) worth $135.60, and the trifecta (4-3-8) was $469.20.