Sometimes the best plans just don't work out. Trainer Stephen DiMauro faced this unfortunate circumstance early in the year with his Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) contender Two Item Limit.
After the high-strung 4-year-old daughter of Twining finished third by a length and a half in last year's Distaff, she earned a long layoff. The three-month winter break was to be her time to rest and recharge before embarking on a schedule of six or seven races designed to bring her back to the Breeders' Cup.
"In retrospect it probably wasn't the smartest we did because she didn't handle it that well," DiMauro said. "She came back more anxious and nervous. I thought she would fill out and she didn't. All things we thought would be right didn't work with her."
DiMauro said he wasn't sure why she didn't improve during her time off, which was divided between owner Joseph Graffeo's farm and the Classic Mile Training Center that are both near Ocala .
"I think she just really likes racing," he said.
Physically Two Item Limit returned to training in good shape. Mentally, she struggled. Another four months would pass before DiMauro said he felt like she was returning to her 2001 form, which produced two grade II victories and earnings of $648,760.The filly got back on track June 22 in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) where she finished third to Raging Fever and Transcendental. She followed that race with another third in the Delaware Handicap (gr. III) on July 21.
Two Item Limit seemed to be back. Then she poorly in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I), running no better than fifth throughout the race in a six-horse field and finishing 25 1/4 lengths behind the winner, Summer Colony. DiMauro said he doesn't know what happened. He only knows that she didn't run her typical race.
"At that point we weren't even sure about the Breeders' Cup," DiMauro said. "But there was nothing wrong with her, so we looked at the schedule and decided if we were going to try the Breeders' Cup we need some kind of edge."
DiMauro and Graffeo decided to send her to Arlington Park early and find a race. Luckily a $42,000 stakes race for Illinois-breds came up and Two Item Limit won by four lengths. The Sept. 14 race boosted her confidence and allowed plenty of time to recover before the Distaff, according to DiMauro.
"I think she is doing well here," DiMauro said. "She loves cold weather. In fact as a 2 year old and a 3 year old, some of her best races were in the fall."
Two Item Limit worked four furlongs in :48 2/5 on Oct. 21. Her more important work, however, was done Oct. 14 when she went six furlongs in 1:12 4/5.
"I think everything has worked out well for her, except the competition," DiMauro said. "As a horseman and a handicapper, you have to love the group. Even though it is only eight horses, it is such a deep, talented group. There are not many flaws in any of them."
In DiMauro's mind, the big gun in the race is not the early morning favorite, Azeri. He says it's Summer Colony, who is the only horse in the field to beat Azeri. Summer Colony won the 1 1/8-mile La Canada Stakes (gr. II) by a length.
"Azeri has done everything and she's a very impressive filly," DiMauro said. "But Summer Colony took her on on her own court."