A year ago, Eddie Plesa Jr. was preparing to embark on a Triple Crown campaign with Itsmyluckyday, a highly accomplished 3-year-old who had prepped with triumphs in the Gulfstream Park Derby and the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and a runner-up finish behind Orb in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.
While preparing Itsmyluckyday for a start in the $75,000 Best of the Rest Stakes to be run April 26 at Gulfstream, the veteran South Florida trainer revisited the 2013 Triple Crown experience that began with disappointment and concluded with redemption.
"I have thought about it just recently, because, before you know it, the Derby will be here," Plesa said. "I have reflected on it, like, 'What were we doing right now?' It's an experience that I've always said you'd like to see everybody have at least once."
Itsmyluckyday had trained impressively over the Churchill Downs track, boosting Plesa's pre-race confidence in the son of Lawyer Ron. But he struggled over the sealed sloppy surface on race day and finished 15th behind the victorious Orb.
"It's like you get to the dance and you're getting ready to dance and your partner doesn't show up and then the lights go out," Plesa said. "You could tell almost immediately he was having trouble with that track. It was tremendously disappointing, not so much for me personally. You almost think of these horses as your children, and when someone says something not very nice about them, you almost take it personally. I knew that he was a better horse than he showed that day. I knew that it was the racetrack. Needless to say, vindication came two weeks later."
Disappointed but his confidence in his colt hardly shaken, Plesa forged ahead to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course, where Itsmyluckyday closed to finish second behind Oxbow , who proved tough to catch after being allowed to set an uncontested and slow early pace.
"That was exhilarating to finish second in the Preakness," Plesa said. "It was like, 'See, I told you." He proved himself to be one of the best 3-year-olds in the country."
Itsmyluckyday's sophomore season came to an abrupt end as the 6-5 favorite in the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park June 16, when he was pulled up and vanned off the track. It was determined that the Kentucky-bred colt had suffered a pelvic fracture that was not career-ending.
"Once we diagnosed what the problem was, which we had a pretty good idea before we sent him to the clinic for the scan, I knew that he'd come back and he'd come back 100%," Plesa said. "Then, it just became a waiting game. It was like when you're a child and you have to wait 12 months for Christmas to roll around again."
Plesa didn't exactly get what he wanted from Itsmyluckyday in his 2014 debut, but it was hardly like a lump of coal in his stocking.
Owned by Trilogy Stable and Plesa's wife Laurie, Itsmyluckyday made his highly anticipated return at Gulfstream March 8. Unable to find a race in which to ease his colt back into action, Plesa opted to enter him in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II). After showing some early speed in the mile stakes, Itsmyluckyday finished fourth behind 2013 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice, 2012 Travers (gr. I) victor Golden Ticket, and multiple graded-stakes winner Uncaptured.
"He was kicking down the barn. He had to run and there was no place to run him. There was no other race in the book. They couldn't put up a race for me, because he had no conditions left. It was the only option that we had," Plesa said. "I thought he ran a great race. He got tired; he got beat seven lengths by Palace Malice, who came back to win again."
Plesa reported that Itsmyluckyday has trained extremely well for his return in the 1/16-mile Best of the Rest Stakes, which was named in honor of the winner of 16 races and $1.4 million in purses between 1997 and 2003, who, incidentally, was trained by Plesa.
"You're going to see the real horse in the next few months," Plesa said. "This is an exciting time for me, because, as disappointing as the second half of the year was for me last year, I have a feeling, knock on wood, that it's going to be that much more exiting this year."
$75,000 Best of the Rest Stakes (Race 8, post time 5:02 p.m. EDT), 3YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Joshua's Comprise (FL), J. Chamafi, 117, B R Rose
2. Border Song (FR), E. Trujillo, 117, M J Azpurua
3. Sr. Quisqueyano (FL), C. Olivero, 121, L Olivares
4. Macho Bull (KY), G. Saez, 119, G Dorochenko
5. Goodtimehadbyall (KY), P.L. Cotto, Jr., 121, J Navarro
6. Speak Logistics (FL), E.J. Zayas, 117, C Maragh
7. Ledokol (ON), A. Stephen, 117, G Dorochenko
8. Itsmyluckyday (KY), P. Lopez, 123, E Plesa, Jr.