Nobody would have blamed the connections of Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner El Padrino if they had chosen to return to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots rather than staying in Florida to face Union Rags in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
But that's not the way Bryan Sullivan, who helped form the racing syndicate Let's Go Stable, wanted to do it. With the earnings from the Risen Star nearly assuring El Padrino of a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the partnership and trainer Todd Pletcher felt it was as good a time as any to face the early Derby favorite at Gulfstream Park.
"I think staying home was the driving force behind it," said Sullivan, who co-founded Let's Go Stable with brother-in-law Kevin Scatuorchio. "You know, it's a million dollars; they're both million dollar races (the Louisiana and Florida Derbies). It's a grade I which had some weight as well, but at the end of the day, we figured, hey, our horse loves Gulfstream Park.
"So now you're trying to manage your horse two ways. You're trying to manage him the best to get a win next time and also with the Kentucky Derby kind of in the background. Although it's still far away, we think that this sets him up best for that.
"Does anyone really want to run against Union Rags right now? I don't think anybody in the country does, but our horse is really, really doing well right now and he's getting better all the time. A mile-and-an-eighth is going to be right up his alley. None of these races are going to come up easy but we're going to take a shot and we're going to have some fun doing it, I can tell you that."
El Padrino, who has $200,000 in graded earnings and sits 14th on the Kentucky Derby eligibility list, is 2-1 on the morning line for the Florida Derby. Union Rags, the impressive four-length winner of the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) is 6-5.
Sullivan said El Padrino is kind of a lazy horse, though like Union Rags, he is physically imposing. This, he feels, will be a good measuring stick for the son of Pulpit .
"He kind of runs to his competition and we just think that when we looked at how he came out of the (Risen Star), not shipping, maybe a shorter field, and taking on Union Rags, this was the best spot for him. Now, we'd love to win on Saturday. I don't think we have to, but I think we got a big shot."
Sulivan and Scatuorchio founded the syndicate, which specializes in the purchase of young horses, in 2006. El Padrino, a $210,000 Keeneland September yearling buy, is part of a six-horse package owned by nine investors, Sullivan said.
"When you get the partners together and you win together, it's the greatest feeling in the world," Sullivan said. "When you can share the excitement of winning with other people, it just means the world because you go through it together. And a lot of my investors are family and friends and we've gotten some other ones, but they've been with me since the beginning so they've been through the good times and the bad times."
Their best horse previously was Ready's Echo, who finished in a dead-heat for third in the 2008 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and ran second in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
Bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton, El Padrino is a chestnut colt out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock. A maiden winner in his second start last fall at Belmont Park, he concluded his 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in the Remsen Stakes (gr. III).
El Padrino won an allowance race stylishly to begin the 2012 season at Gulfstream before shipping to New Orleans for the Risen Star. In that race, he nipped Mark Valeski by a nose in a terrific finish.
He is based at Palm Meadows Training Center, where he has worked three times since the Feb. 25 Risen Star. El Padrino breezed a half-mile in :49 in his most recent drill March 25. Leading Gulfsteam rider Javier Castellano will be aboard the colt in the Florida Derby.
“He’s becoming more and more professional,” Pletcher said recently. “His allowance race here was an impressive race for a young horse, sitting behind horses on the inside and having to wait for something to open and finishing up strongly against a horse that was kind of loose on the lead.
“Then, he went to Louisiana and showed he had some courage in a dogfight with a nice horse and was able to put his nose down at the wire. It’s nice to know that he’s capable of sitting behind horses and taking some dirt when he’s down inside and that when he gets in a situation that he needs to find more, he can come up with it.”