What could be better for a Thoroughbred owner than having a starter in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)?
If you're a member of Starlight Racing or Skychai Racing, the answer is, of course, having two starters in the Run for the Roses. So the two Kentucky-based racing partnership organizations, in a bit of an unorthodox move, came together April 28 and purchased General a Rod, who hit the board in both the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Florida Derby (gr. I) after winning the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day.
Starlight already has Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner Intense Holiday in the Derby, and Skychai is co-owner of Harry's Holiday, a stakes winner at Turfway Park, who also has a berth in the race. Those entities join Ken and Sarah Ramsey in making this the year of duos in the Derby. The Ramseys will send We Miss Artie and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Vicar's in Trouble postward in the May 3 Derby.
Starlight principal Jack Wolf had to think for a minute before remembering that Starlight had once before bought a horse already in training elsewhere when it purchased Hilda's Passion, who won the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) for the group in 2011. But since Starlight started around the turn of the century, it has concentrated on yearling purchases with great success. Intense Holiday and General a Rod will represent the group's fifth and sixth Derby starters, following Harlan's Holiday (the sire of Intense Holiday), Monba, Sam P, and Keyed Entry. Skychai bought an interest in champion Hansen before his run in the Derby two years ago.
Don Lucarelli, based in upstate New York and the other principal in Starlight, is in on General a Rod. The colt will remain with trainer Mike Maker.
"(Trainer) Todd (Pletcher) said Intense Holiday was upset when he heard the news I'm cheating on him," said Wolf, whose easy sense of humor makes him a favorite around Kentucky racetracks. Turning only slightly more serious, he added, "Other than the premium you have to pay this time of year, I think General a Rod is a solid racehorse going forward. So if Gulfstream Park turns out to be the only track he likes, we'll try and win the Donn (Handicap, gr. I) next year."
Wolf said Skychai partner James Shircliff had approached him two months ago about trying to buy General a Rod, but they came up dry until last weekend, when the colt's owner Jose Rodriguez re-engaged them. The deal got done in a quick two days for the son of Roman Ruler —Dynamite Eyes, by Dynaformer (full story on purchase here).
"I liked him off the Ragozin sheets, liked his past performances, liked his physical and his pedigree," Wolf said. "I think he has more facets to his game than meet the eye. He doesn't need to be up on the lead, especially in the Derby. Our bloodstock advisor Frank Brothers went and looked at him and we saw him jog at Churchill over the weekend."
Wolf, who has placed a wager or two in his time, noted that he now owns the exacta box he would have been betting anyway in the Derby. One day after the purchase was finalized, General a Rod breezed in blinkers April 29 under jockey Joel Rosario (story here).
Starlight Racing, which began as Starlight Stables, has enjoyed tremendous success with runners like champions Ashado and Shanghai Bobby and stakes winners such as Purge and multiple grade I winner Octave. Harlan's Holiday and Monba both won the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), but Wolf, who makes his home in Louisville with his wife Laurie and their children, would like nothing more than to add at Kentucky Derby trophy to his collection of hardware.
So if Saturday's victor should be General a Rod and someone accuses Wolf of having bought the Derby, don't expect him to be the least bit contrite. He'll be the guy laughing all the way to the mutuel window—and the winner's circle.