In 2008, Robert LaPenta took the previous year’s 2-year-old champion, War Pass, to the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) with an undefeated record. Unbeaten in five starts including the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), War Pass was the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) favorite and the horse everyone was talking about.
But everything changed after that race, as War Pass tired badly to finish seventh, beaten more than 23 lengths as the 1-20 favorite. Even though he came back to run a good second in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) before being injured, War Pass was never again thought of as the Derby favorite after his Tampa disaster.
After that bad experience three years ago, LaPenta wants nothing to do with Tampa Bay Downs. But up until about 1 p.m. EST March 3, it looked as though that was his best option for his latest Derby threat, Dialed In . That is, until some late maneuvering allowed a March 6 allowance race to fill at Gulfstream.
Dialed In, undefeated after two electrifying wins including the Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), needs a race badly and it has to be two turns. LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito were hoping it would be the Timely Writer, which was originally written for nine furlongs but was changed to one-mile after Uncle Mo got involved.
They finally got their wish after five horses were drawn for a 1 1/8-mile allowance race for 3-year-olds and up on Sunday. One of the horses, Equestrio, is also trained by Zito but runs for a different owner. Reprized Halo, William's Kitten, and Valerius were also entered.
The alternative was going to be either the Tampa Bay Derby or to train up to the April 3 Florida Derby (gr. I).
“Obviously, I had a bad experience (at Tampa) with War Pass and don’t really want to go back. I hate shipping him too," LaPenta said. "The horse wants to run, he’s kicking down the barn. He had a great work the other day and he’s ready. What are we going to get out of the Timely Writer? We won’t learn anything from it.”
LaPenta has no doubts about Dialed In being successful at two turns. He reminds him of a couple other Derby starters that he owned.
“We have some experience with this kind of horse,” LaPenta said. “The Cliff's Edge had that kind of running style and he just needed a little luck or could have won the Derby (in 2004 when fifth). I’m very comfortable with Dialed In going two turns. If we make the Derby, knock on wood, I would love to see him drop back and come running. You know what happens in the Derby, a lot of horses drop back around the turn and then accelerate.
“Look at Ice Box last year (second to Super Saver). If (Jose) Lezcano had him wide the whole time instead of being on rail, he would have won by five lengths. He had to stop three times before he finally got out near the sixteenth-pole. If the race was another 70 yards, he wins.
“Dialed In has tremendous acceleration. He’s really smart and has a big heart. I can’t wait to see him go longer.”