Joel Rosario has sure gotten some live pick-up mounts following his decision to ride Speak Logistics instead of Orb, on whom he had won two in a row, in the Besilu Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Not one sulk over taking off a major Derby contender, Rosario bounced right back by picking up the mount on Vyjack the following week in the Gotham Stakes and driving the Into Mischief gelding to a stunning 2 1/4-length victory.
Now, here he is a week later, slated to ride Dynamic Sky for the first time in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby.
The son of Sky Mesa, owned by John Oxley, has had some poor racing luck in his most recent races, including a disastrous trip in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He did begin the year with a victory in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, followed by a neck defeat in the Sam F. Davis, also at Tampa in which he drifted in under a right-hand whip at a crucial point in the race. He's been ridden by Luis Contreras in all his races.
"I've taken all the ins and outs we've had with this colt as a great learning experience," trainer Mark Casse said. "Of course, we're looking for a better trip this time. Not that we feel Luis [Contreras] has done a poor job, it's just that we need to find a little bit more and we're trying all we can. I thought he was the best horse in the Sam Davis and ran 52 feet farther than the winner. What bothered me most was, he has a tendency to lay in and I thought Luis probably shouldn't have hit him right-handed. That pushed him over. Once he got him straightened out and running in the right direction he came running late at the end. As much as I want to win every race, we're trying to climb some stairs with him, and at the top is the Kentucky Derby, and this was a step up toward that goal. As long as we feel like we're climbing I'm happy."
Although Casse is realistic when he considers the chances of beating the likely overwhelming favorite, Verrazano, he believes anything can happen, especially since Verrazano has never been two turns and Dynamic Sky has three two-turn races under his belt and two good races over the Tampa surface.
"I think it's a huge advantage to have had a couple of races over the track," he said. "Verrazano is a tough horse and he's going to be tough on Saturday. But right now, he's coming to play in our house. We've already established ourself there. He still has to go turns for the first time and still has to get over the Tampa surface, which a lot of horses don't like. I wish the race was a little farther, because the farther the better with our horse. But he has trained really well and he's going to run a good race.
"If Verrazano breaks clean and can carry his speed two turns, we probably can't beat him," Casse continued. "I just hope to come running at him and build on that, and then we'll try to meet him on the first Saturday in May. I ran against him last month with a colt I think a lot of called Gunderman and we went head-and-head with him for about a half-mile, and my jockey Patrick Husbands told me Johnny Velazquez [on Verrazano] just smiled at him and off he went [to a 16 1/4-length victory]. He may be the next Secretariat, but we all know we've seen similar types, and when you go around two turns it can change things sometimes."
Casse feels Dynamic Sky, who was bred in Ontario by Arosa Farms, has matured from 2 to 3 and is progressing and learning with each race.
"When we went to Keeneland he was wonderful [finishing second in the grade I Breeders' Futurity]," he said. "When we went to the Breeders' Cup he did well there. When we ran him in the Pasco this year, he didn't ship over as well as I would have liked. I almost didn't run him in the Sam Davis, but he was training so well, and he shipped much better that time.
"I think we've only seen about 75 or 80% of what he can do. Now, he may give 100% on Saturday and it won't be enough to beat Verrazano, I don't know. But he is getting better and he is peaking, and I couldn't be more pleased with where he's headed."
Casse's big 3-year-old actually may be Uncaptured, also owned by Oxley, who won six of his seven starts last year and then had some physical issues, which delayed his debut. The son of Lion Heart has been working brilliantly at the Ocala Training Center over a synthetic surface and is being targeted for a start at Turfway Park, most likely the March 23 Spiral Stakes.
"I thought his work today was as good as a horse can work," Casse said. "I was very excited how well he worked. I have to tell you, there have been some moments this winter when I wasn't sure we had any chance of making the Derby. I feel like now he's training better than ever. He's grown, and is about 16.3 hands and is the picture of health. I worked him this morning with a real good filly named Delightful Mary, who was third in the [Grey Goose] Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and was the champion 2-year-old filly in Canada. She's on her comeback trail and I've never seen anybody outwork her.
"I wanted to get a good work into him and he worked just super, coming home his last quarter in :23 1/5, out in :59 4/5, and pulled up in 1:12 2/5, and seven furlongs in 1:26. It wasn't how fast he went; it was the way he did it. I was there when he pulled up and he didn't take a deep breath. I always planned on running him in the Rushaway Stakes, but if he continues to train the way he did today, I'll probably go straight to the Spiral.