A relentless Dialed In came from last on a speed-favoring Gulfstream Park main track to get up in the final couple of strides over 68-1 outsider Shackleford by a head in the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) April 3 (VIDEO) .
The exciting finish puts Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito and Dialed In's owner Robert LaPenta firmly in the picture for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with five weeks to go before the first Saturday in May. Zito and LaPenta won last year's Florida Derby with Ice Box , who went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby.
"I haven't been this emotional since (1991 Kentucky Derby winner) Strike the Gold," Zito told HRTV immediately after the race. "Once in a while special horses come around, and he's a special horse.
"It has been a speed-favoring track all day and he defied the track. I hope God stays with him one more race."
Julien Leparoux guided Dialed In, the long-striding Mineshaft colt, to victory as the second choice. Shackleford, fifth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) last time out, nearly caused a major upset with a huge front-running effort. To Honor and Serve , who battled on the lead before tiring, finished third, with Flashpoint fourth.
The final time was 1:50.07.
W.S. Farish, Madeleine Pickens and Skara Glen Stables bred the winning dark bay or brown colt in Kentucky. Dialed In cost $475,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton's August 2009 sale.
It was the third Florida Derby win for Zito, who also won with High Fly in 2005. The only other trainer with three Florida Derby wins is John Veitch, who did it in 1978, ’85, and ’88. And the only trainer to win Gulfstream’s biggest race in consecutive years was Horace Jones in 1957-58.
Soldat , the 3-2 favorite following his impressive front-running two-length win in the Fountain of Youth, failed to rally from mid-pack on the final turn and struggled home fifth. "He just didn't fire his 'A' race today,'' trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.
Dialed In was the Derby buzz horse at the beginning of the Gulfstream meet following his impressive last-to-first win in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) in just his second start Jan. 30. But the excitement cooled a bit when Dialed In was defeated by his 4-year-old stablemate Equestrio in his first two-turn test, an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles March 6.
Zito was a bundle of nerves in the paddock before the Florida Derby, fidgeting awkwardly and taking deep breaths as Dialed In made his way around the ring.
Leparoux allowed Dialed In to drop in well behind the rest of the field while saving ground as To Honor and Serve and Shackleford vied for the early lead. Flashpoint, the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) winner who was expected to set the pace from the far outside, was outsprinted early and raced four-wide alongside Arch Traveler on the clubhouse turn.
Shackleford, ridden by Jesus Castanon, and To Honor and Serve, with Garrett Gomez aboard, battled through a brisk opening quarter-mile in :23.30 as Shackleford gained a half-length advantage. He tripped the half-mile in :46.35 and six furlongs in 1:10.63 with To Honor and Serve remaining in close attendance.
Dialed In, still trailing to the far turn, began to pick off rivals rounding the bend and charged furiously down the homestretch as Shackleford began to inch away from To Honor and Serve. Dialed In, angled outside by Leparoux for the drive, swept past To Honor and Serve in deep stretch and took aim at Shackleford, who showed no sign of giving in despite his taxing pace battle.
Under strong urging from Leparoux, Dialed In drew even in the final yards and put his head in front just before the wire.
“It was a solid pace and that definitely helped," Leparoux said. "I just left him alone out of the gate and started to catch up around the second turn. I think his last race really helped him today. I loved his last race. It was a very good learning race. He learned to run between horses and take dirt in his face, and it all paid off today.”
"He just has an incredible heart,'' LaPenta said. "And unbelievable talent.''
Dialed In earned $600,000 for the victory and remains in contention for a $5.5 million bonus if he can win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"The goal is the Derby, but it certainly is nice to consider (Frank) Stronach’s $5.5 million bonus," LaPenta said.
Out of the Storm Cat mare Miss Doolittle, Dialed In has won three of four starts with earnings of $879,206. He returned $7.80, $4.80, and $4.
Shackleford, trained by Dale Romans, also becomes a factor in the Kentucky Derby chase after collecting $200,000 for the runner-up effort. The Forestry colt, beaten by 23 1/2 lengths in the Fountain of Youth, paid $36.80 and $15.20 and completed a $339.60 exacta (7-5).
“That’s a real tough beat," Romans said of the runner-up. "He ran super. I’m very proud of him. If $200,000 is enough to get into the Derby, I think we’ll have to go. He’s a horse that keeps improving.”
To Honor and Serve ($4.20 to show), a dual grade II winner as a 2-year-old, finished 6 3/4 lengths behind Shackleford in third. His race closely resembled the effort he gave in his first start of the year in the Fountain of Youth when he also faded to third after pressing the pace.
“He looked like he was a little anxious on the backside," trainer Bill Mott said of To Honor and Serve. "It looked like they set honest fractions. He was actually in the game when they turned for home today. It was a better race than last time by quite a bit. But we still need to improve.”