Saffie Joseph Jr. is on the cusp of clinching his sixth straight training title at Gulfstream Park in the last 24 months, including the last two championship meets. He takes a nine-win lead into the final weekend of the meet.
He has 28 entries there between Wednesday and Sunday, including four in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where the colts in his charge will go up against leading Kentucky Derby contender Forte and 10 others. Pletcher has 17 entries through Sunday, including Forte.
Joseph discussed his Florida Derby contenders, his other 3-year-olds and older horses for the latest in Horse Racing Nation’s Barn Tour series.
Mr. Ripple. Joseph’s fourth Florida Derby runner, shown in the photo above, he’s a Dialed In colt who broke his maiden in his first start then had a second and a third in optional-claiming allowance races, all at a mile or more. “He’s probably the most accomplished horse in form to us. He’s run three times. He broke his maiden nice first time out and then came back, he ran a decent third, just beaten by Litigate who came back to win the Sam Davis (G3). And then last time he ran OK going a mile and an eighth, being a second to Classic Cat. So he’s a horse that, this is probably his most current race, where he’s coming back on more frequency. He’s always had too much space in between his races because he got sick one time and then he spiked a temp. So this race, he should be coming in a form cycle where he should run his best race. Is the best race good enough? That’s the big question.”
West Coast Cowboy. The West Coast colt broke his maiden at a mile and finished third in the Holy Bull (G3) last out. “He’s had three runs so far, obviously he stepped up in the Holy Bull and ran a decent third,” Joseph said. “He’s going to need to step up again (in the Florida Derby). He was initially supposed to go to the Tampa Bay Derby, but he had spiked a temp so he missed some training, and we ended up back in the Florida Derby, which is much tougher race with Forte, everyone’s favorite. … We didn’t think the field was going to come up this big. We thought it was gonna have like seven, eight horses, and it made sense at that time to stay here.”
Mr. Peeks. The Florida Derby will be the California Chrome colt’s first start for Joseph. He finished second and fourth in his first two starts, both for Ian Wilkes and both at six furlongs. “He was a private purchase after his last race by C2 Racing,” Joseph said. C2 Racing also is lead owner in White Abarrio. “And we’ve worked him once, he worked with O’Connor. They want to give him a shot in this race and see how he gets on. He’s coming out of a race, he ran against older horses and he ran a quite good Beyer. Two turns is going to be a question mark, obviously. We’ll see how he gets on this week.”
Nautical Star. Another Florida Derby entrant, the son of Dixie Chatter broke his maiden by a nose last out in his second start for Nathaniel Quiñones. “This is another private purchase. We’ve had him a bit longer, we got him probably in like early March. … His last work was very good, he actually worked with West Coast Cowboy, it was a very good work (five furlongs in 59.72 seconds). Two turns again for the first time, but he’s a very solid horse. We’ve worked him enough times to know he’s a legit horse, but he has to answer the question mark, a big step up in class and going two turns for the first time.”
Lord Miles. The son of Curlin broke his maiden in his first start then was third in the Mucho Macho Man, sixth in the Holy Bull (G3) and fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3). He’ll start next in the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 8. “He’s a horse that keeps running differently, like, just keeps not really staying in the bridle,” Joseph said. “Early in the race, he’s always off the bridle and then he drops too far back. And then he basically comes on with a bit of run when the race is over. We’ve been working with him, trying to keep him in the bridle. In the mornings, he’s very handy, but that’s the problem in all his races, including the one he won. And that’s been the biggest factor, he’s given himself too much work to do.”
Run Cory Run. The Accelerate colt is 1-for 3 and is a possibility for the Wood. “He’s going to work this week, and then we’ll decide if we go there. He ran fourth in that same race with Mr. Ripple (last out). I think the winner of that race (Classic Catch) is going to the Wood also. So we might give him a chance in the Wood. He doesn’t really have a quick turn of foot, he’s more even. Sometimes the track at Aqueduct comes up pretty deep, which I think will work to his benefit.”
Knox. The son of Brethren is 1-for-6, finishing second last out in an optional-claiming starter race, and he’s also under consideration for the Wood. “He’s still a question mark. He’s a horse who comes from way out of it. That’s the reason we’re considering the Wood. As I said, that surface tends to get a little slower, and it probably fits a little more stamina. But we’re going to see how he does during this week before we decide if we go.”
Prairie Hawk. The Curlin colt is 2-for 5 and picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points with his fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby. “We wanted to take a step back and will probably go to the Lexington with him. The Wood wouldn’t be a bad spot for him, but I think we’re kind of set up to go into the Lexington right now.” The April 15 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland offers 20-8-6-4-2 Kentucky Derby points.
White Abarrio. The winner of last year’s Florida Derby returned from an eighth-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) to win an optional-claiming allowance race at Gulfstream, breaking a six-race losing streak. “He’s going to go to the Carter (Handicap, G1) next week on Wood day (at Aqueduct). He’s coming off that nice allowance win, got some momentum back, got some confidence for him and mainly confidence for us. So we’re happy where we’re at. One turn, I think, is going to be where we stick to it right now, and hopefully in the Carter he can run just as good as last time and get the next Grade 1 on his resume.”
Skippylongstocking. He won the Challenger (G3) after finishing seventh in the Pegasus World Cup. “Skippy right now is, I would say most likely, he might end up going to the Ben Ali (G3). He is between that and Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for him. We haven’t really finalized it 100 percent yet.” Both races are April 22.
A. P.’s Secret. The 4-year-old son of Cupid took a seven-month break after finishing fourth in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga in July. He returned with a seventh-place finish in an optional-claiming allowance race at Gulfstream on March 4, his only start on turf. “We tried him on the grass. He just ran OK, but it was his first race off the layoff. We wanted to see where we’re at. Nothing’s really set in plans for him just yet. … We want to get back to the dirt. Probably keep him in the one-turn model.”
O’Connor. After much success in Chile, this now 6-year-old has run three times for Joseph, most recently finishing 11th in the Pegasus World Cup. He is entered in Saturday’s Ghostzapper (G3) at Gulfstream. “We backed off him a little bit, started him back up,” Joseph said. “Always going to aim for this race. And he worked well last week, so hopefully he can get back on track. The Pegasus has turned out to be a productive race. Hopefully O’Connor will make it even more productive.”
Master Piece. The 7-year-old ridgling has raced three times for Joseph, and his third-place finish in the Mac Diarmida (G3) last out was his best showing for his new trainer. He is entered in Saturday’s Pan American (G2). “He should have a very good chance in that race. … I thought he ran OK last time. Looks like he had, at the top of the stretch, like he was close enough to kind of finish it off and he kind of just hung. He stayed there, stayed even. Obviously, beaten by two decent horses on the day. But we’re going to try some blinkers on him this time. He’s never had them on, so hopefully that could just give him a little more push.”