Florida Derby

Plesas driven for success in Kentucky Derby

 

Eddie Plesa Jr., trainer of Florida Derby favorite Itsmyluckyday, could have a horse at Churchill Downs with a top-two finish.

Special to The Miami Herald

Laurie Plesa would be hard-pressed to declare whether Wednesday qualified as a terribly unlucky day or a remarkably lucky one. In truth, it was both.

She and daughter Kelsey, on a shopping trip to Boca Raton, had just purchased a Florida Derby outfit for Kelsey and headed home to Plantation when another driver crashed into the back of Laurie’s car.

“My new car is trashed,” Laurie Plesa said.

Far more important, however, no one sustained an injury. “The seatbelts worked,” Laurie said, chuckling in relief. “The paramedics checked us and we were OK.”

She took a couple Advil and woke up Thursday feeling no pain.

As suddenly as a starting gate clangs open, Laurie’s focus then shifted sharply back to how a mile-and-one-eighth trip will go Saturday for the 3-year-old colt husband Eddie Plesa Jr. has trained to within that distance of a Kentucky Derby starting spot May 4.

Itsmyluckyday is shopping for glory.

The horse, a gentle creature even more even-keeled than his 63-year-old conditioner, enters Gulfstream Park’s Florida Derby as a slim favorite.

Itsmyluckyday, a son of 2006 Kentucky Derby starter Lawyer Ron, will be making his 10th career start — rare today for a 3-year-old on the Kentucky Derby trail — in quest of a third Gulfstream stakes victory in three 2013 starts.

He will be challenged in a stout field of 10 by the likes of Shanghai Bobby, the Todd Pletcher-trained 2-year-old champion of 2012, and Orb, trainer Shug McGaughey’s winner of Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth prep race last month.

For Pletcher and McGaughey, this is a familiar stratosphere.

Should Itsmyluckyday finish first or second in the Florida Derby, he would be on a path to become only Plesa’s second Kentucky Derby starter.

Three Ring, Plesa’s most accomplisher runner, won the 1999 Bonnie Miss and Davona Dale stakes at Gulfstream before a luckless trip in that year’s Kentucky Derby.

“She got shut off going into the first turn, and Johnny Velazquez had to stand up [in the irons] and really jerk her back as hard as he could so she wouldn’t run over another horse,” Plesa said. “That was the end of the story.”

Three Ring went on to win the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes for fillies at Belmont before she sustained a freakish fatal injury flipping over backwards while being saddled for Belmont’s Mother Goose Stakes.

Itsmyluckyday, purchased for $110,000 as a 2-year-old by the ownership trio of David Melin’s Trilogy Stable, Marion Montanari and Laurie Plesa, has positioned himself to give the Plesas a far more pleasurable Kentucky Derby experience. But he has work to do.

On the graded-stakes-earnings scale that previously determined Run-for-the-Roses entrants, Itsmyluckyday would be a surefire starter if healthy. In Churchill Downs’ new points system, the colt needs no worse than a runner-up finish to make a reservation for one of 20 starting gates.

“Absolutely,” Plesa responded when asked if Itsmyluckyday could prove to be the best horse he has ever trained. “[But it] remains to be seen.”

Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award winner, is the trainer against whom all others are measured. Shanghai Bobby understandably ruled as the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby. That day, Itsmyluckyday and Plesa beat the acknowledged best.

That affirmed for Plesa the potential greatness he witnessed when Itsmyluckyday won the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day.

“That wasn’t a revelation,’’ he said. “It was a validation. It was what I thought he would do, though he [won] it in a bigger way.”

Plesa knows how great expectations can be dashed in this business. He has kept a tight hold on his own. He’s fending off Derby fever.

Laurie Plesa is more inclined to become a bit giddy and certainly more nervous. “I have moments in a day when I think I’m going to hyperventilate,” she said, laughing. One night last week, she added, “I asked Eddie, ‘Can we just dream about.

[Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby glory] for five minutes, and then we won’t talk about it anymore?”

Easy to say. Much harder to do.

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