Everyone, including trainer Jonathan Sheppard, is waiting to see if the speedy Ever So Lucky belongs on the Triple Crown trail. The answer, hopefully, could come Feb. 11 when the son of Indian Charlie leads a short field of six in the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
Sheppard entered Ever So Lucky in the seven-furlong Hutcheson, but on Feb. 8 said there is a possibility that he could scratch him and instead point toward the March 10 Swale (gr. II) at the same distance. The bay colt is doing fine, Sheppard said, but he may want to give him an extra month to make his 3-year-old debut.
Ever So Lucky’s five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 Feb. 6 was not exactly what the trainer was looking for from his final breeze before the Hutcheson.
“It was too slow. I think the horse needed one more good work,” Sheppard said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but it didn’t prove much.
“The horse wasn’t even blowing after the work. When he worked the previous time, he worked in company. Julien (Leparoux) had to ride him a little bit to catch up. The horse got something out of it, and I wanted something similar. This time for some reason I decided to work him alone.”
Even with the less-than-ideal work, Sheppard said: “I expect we’ll end up running him. The horse is doing wonderfully.”
Ever So Lucky, who was bought by George Strawbridge Jr. for $600,000 last year, is a speedballer who broke his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths in his debut at Churchill Downs in November. He came back to finish second to Gemologist in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at the end of the month. Leparoux has been named to ride and they would break from post 6.
If Ever So Lucky doesn’t go, favoritism could wind up belonging to Chuck Russo’s Il Villano, who finished third in the Jan. 7 Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct, 2 3/4 lengths behind Alpha, who subsequently went on to take the Withers (gr. III) last weekend.
Il Villano, trained by Susan Crowell, won the final three starts of his juvenile season, including the Southampton Stakes at Parx Racing. The son of Pollard's Vision won that race by five lengths as the 1-10 choice. Elvis Trujillo has been named to ride the 118-pound high weight.
Starlight Racing’s Thunder Moccasin should also take a lot of money off of his easy maiden victory Dec. 24 at Gulfstream. The son of A. P. Warrior scored in that debut race by 2 1/2 lengths, going wire-to-wire in the 6 1/2-furlong contest for leading trainer Todd Pletcher. Thunder Moccasin, who will be ridden by John Velazquez, turned in a bullet work Feb. 5 at Palm Meadows, clocking four furlongs in :47 3/5. It was the best of 47 moves that morning.
Trainer Dale Romans entered a pair in the Hutcheson, including Tarpy's Goal, winner of an optional claimer at the track and distance on Jan. 21. The son of High Cotton was third in the Futurity (gr. II) at Belmont last year.
Romans’ other starter is Quick Wit, a maiden winner last out, also at seven furlongs over the Gulfstream main rack. Ramon Dominguez picks up the mount.
The Hutcheson is the first of four graded stakes on Gulfstream's Saturday card headlined by the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I), all of which will air on HRTV.
$150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. IT, Race 8, 3:49 p.m.), 3YO, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Tarpy's Goal (FL), J Castellano, 116, D L Romans
2. Wildcat Creek (FL), A Serpa, 116, E Plesa Jr.
3. Thunder Moccasin (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher
4. Quick Wit (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, D L Romans
5. Il Villano (KY), E Trujillo, 118, S L Crowell
6. Ever So Lucky (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, J E Sheppard