LaPenta Dialed In to Derby Again
Photo: Coglianese Photos

Robert LaPenta has been on the Derby trail so often and has seen so many sights along the way he can serve as a tour guide. This year he has the late-closing Dialed In  , who is looking to take LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito back to Churchill Downs one year after their second-place finish with Ice Box  , who had a disastrous trip over a sloppy track.

 

LaPenta is optimistic Dialed In will punch his and their ticket to Louisville in the April 3 Florida Derby (gr. I) when he will face a deep and talented field.

 

LaPenta, who has started four horses in the Run for the Roses, had another frustrating experience in his Derby debut in 2004 when his Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner The Cliff's Edge   lost two shoes in the race, also run in the slop.

 

This year he is hoping for better luck, and just wants to see Dialed In run his race on Sunday and unleash the closing kick he displayed when winning the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II), in which he was coming off only a 6 1/2-furlong maiden victory.

 

“The whole key is that he’s closing ground in the stretch,” LaPenta said. “A lot of the Derby winners we’ve seen over the years didn’t win their final prep, and for some who did it turned into a disadvantage. You just want to see a horse who is improving and who feels good, and who is comfortable running in a crowded field of horses. I’d be very happy to see him running down the middle of the stretch picking up horses. That would set him up nicely for the Derby. He’s got an explosive move and that’s what I’m going to be looking for on Sunday.”

 

Although Dialed In will be making only his fourth career start in the Florida Derby, LaPenta is not concerned with the colt’s lack of racing experience.

 

“From my perspective, what he’s been through in his races – coming from off the pace, breaking slowly, racing on the inside and the outside, and taking a lot of dirt -- I’d say in his three races he’s gotten six or seven races worth of experience. In addition, he’s extremely talented, he’s got a tremendous heart, and he’s learned a lot in three races.”

 

And then there is the Zito factor. “Nick is a great trainer, particularly for the big races,” LaPenta said. “He thinks the world of this horse, and I think this is one of his best training jobs. We’re very blessed to have Dialed In, and Nick and Julien (Leparoux) are a perfect team to get him to perform at his best.”

 

LaPenta said he named the son of Mineshaft   – Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat Dialed In because he always seemed so focused.

 

“If you look at his early works, he just wanted to dig in and get to the finish line, so he was kind of dialed in,” LaPenta said.

 

Some people were disappointed in Dialed In’s most recent performance, in which he was beaten by his own stablemate, the 4-year-old Equestrio, at odds of 1-5.

 

“I was just looking for him to gain some experience and be running at the end, because it was his first mile and an eighth race,” LaPenta said. “I said before the race in an interview he didn’t necessarily have to win. The race didn’t unfold the way we had hoped, but I think he learned a lot being down on the inside behind a very slow pace. Julien said he wanted to teach him to run on the inside and between horses and give him that experience. Sure I would have liked him to win, but if you’re going to lose a race this was the one you wanted to lose.”

 

LaPenta is anxious to find out in the Florida Derby just where Dialed In belongs among the leading Kentucky Derby contenders.

 

“Obviously, we want to see him run his race and be competitive,” La Penta. “This is the toughest race of all the Derby preps, and I think it’s going to tell a lot about some of the leading horses in the Derby Dozen.”

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