While the Florida Stallion Stakes sweep by jockey Angel Serpa was the lead story at the 21st annual Festival of the Sun at Calder Race Course on Saturday, the headlines coming out of the day could be made by Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff's Csaba, the three-year-old colt who put the sword to his rivals when winning the Tropical Park Derby by 14 lengths.
"We have to figure out what we're going to do now," trainer Phil Gleaves said following Csaba's impressive Tropical Derby triumph. "We could take the conservative approach and stay here for the (Grade 3) Fred Hooper (on November 24), but I don't know, is it tough to take a three-year-old to the Breeders' Cup, to a race like the Dirt Mile? I'm not sure you want to do something like that with a three-year-old, maybe it's best to leave that for next year, but off that performance, we may have to think about it."
Having won the El Kaiser by 8 1/4 lengths at Calder in late May, Csaba spent his summer competing in parts north and was beaten a nose when second in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga before returning to finish a flat ninth in the Equalize Stakes and a non-threatening seventh in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.
Csaba returned to his south Florida home three days after that race where Gleaves saw the horse thrive, prompting the trainer to enter the son of Kitten's Joy in the Grade 3 Spend a Buck against older horses while cross-entering the colt in the Tropical Derby in case that race, restricted to three-year-olds, was rained from the turf to the main track.
"I thought he would run really well in Pennsylvania and I was very disappointed up there," Gleaves said. "But he came back and he was just bouncing around the barn. He breezed great and I knew we had to go. I wasn't afraid of taking on the older horses if this race had stayed on the grass, but it made logical sense to stick with the three-year-olds when it came off."
The mere fact that Csaba was entered in a turf race with designs on running only if it was moved to the dirt would come as a surprise to anyone that saw the colt run third behind Howe Great and Dullahan in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf course in March, or to anyone that had spoken with Gleaves about the horse through the first half of the year.
"All year long I was saying he would love the grass, but now I'm starting to believe that he's just a better dirt horse," Gleaves said of that colt that is winless in three tries on the turf while holding a five-for-11 mark on dirt. "He just runs so big on the dirt, even though his pedigree would suggest otherwise."
With the Breeders' Cup at least an outside option for Csaba, the colt could find himself along a path paved in 2009 by the Gleaves trainee Mambo Meister, who won that year's running of the Spend a Buck before shipping to Santa Anita, the host site of this year's Breeders' Cup, where he finished a troubled fifth in the Dirt Mile, beaten two lengths from glory.
"He does remind me of Mambo," Gleaves said when asked if Csaba brought back memories of his one-time stable star that passed earlier this year after suffering an injury during a routine morning workout. "Mambo was irreplaceable, but Csaba has kind of fit in that slot where Mambo was. He does similar things as Mambo. They both just wanted to run; they both loved to run, and they love Calder."