Two Phil's secures Ky. Derby slot with Jeff Ruby Steaks victory

Two Phil's secures Ky. Derby slot with Jeff Ruby Steaks victory
Photo: Jessica Morgan / Eclipse Sportswire

Florence, Ky.

With a raw, fierce wind blowing in his face on the Turfway Park backstretch, Two Phil’s was sitting pretty in the Grade 3, $700,000 
Jeff Ruby Steaks.

“I felt like if I sat on the outside of a horse, it would cut a little bit less,” jockey Jareth Loveberry said.

Yes, the wind sliced like a sharp blade Saturday. But when the field turned for home, Two Phil’s (5-2) might as well have had a full-blown spinnaker. He used what was then a tail wind and his reserve of unspent energy that carried him from a measured sixth on the backstretch to surge to a 5 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile race that clinched him a berth in
Kentucky Derby 2023.
The west wind blowing steadily at 22 mph with gusts to 41 mph might have been textbook anathema to pacesetters and catnip for an off-the-pace horse like Two Phil’s. But winning trainer Larry Rivelli said the race strategy was not dictated by the weather.

"This is the way we usually always try to run,” Rivelli said. “I wanted him to get covered up somewhere, especially on the backside. Even though he was three wide, he was still behind (Wadsworth). Lately he’s been making the lead on the dirt and kind of getting there a little too early, kind of jumping around and not really paying attention. I said wait as long as you can, and he did.”

Midway through the race, the field of 10 was tightly bunched on the synthetic track. Two Phil’s was as far back as seventh early, but he never trailed by more than 2 3/4 lengths at any call. Loveberry pushed the button in the crosswind of the second turn, finding the lead just past the quarter pole.

“Oh, my gosh, it was perfect,” Loveberry said. “I was hoping I could sort of tuck in as soon as I could. He just relaxed nicely. (Wadsworth) had me covered up, and he does a lot better when he gets covered up. It was just a dream trip. I got him tilted out, and he just finished like a bolt.”

Post-time favorite Major Dude (7-5), who was making the switch from turf to the Tapeta, lurked a close fourth before moving forward to finish second. Since the Jeff Ruby was worth 100-40-30-20-10 qualifying points to the top five finishers, the Todd Pletcher-trained Bolt d’Oro colt probably clinched a Kentucky Derby berth, too.

“He ran his race,” jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “He ran good. Beautiful trip. Can’t complain. He just got beat.”

Early pacesetter Funtastic Again (5-1), who had been 2-for-2 at Turfway, faded to finish a distant third to collect his first 30 Derby points, perhaps putting him on the verge of getting into the gate at Churchill Downs for trainer Wesley Ward.
Wadsworth (5-1) took fourth, and Maker’s Candy (23-1) was fifth. Neither had Derby points coming into the race.

Congruent (6-1), who had 20 Derby points from his win over the same track last month in the John Battaglia Memorial (G3), finished sixth and was followed in order by Baby Billy (43-1), Escapologist (70-1), Bluebirds Over (31-1) and Point Proven (25-1).

Scoobie Quando, who had eight Derby points after finishing second in the Battaglia, and maiden winner Event Detail were scratched Saturday morning. Scoobie Quando’s trainer Ben Colebrook could not be reached to find out why. Event Detail suffered an unspecified “minor setback,” according to his trainer Paulo Lobo. He said a further examination Sunday would tell him how much time the colt might miss.

The winning time for Two Phil’s was 1:49.03 chasing early fractions of 23.49, 47.84 and 1:11.91 before he clicked through the first mile in 1:36.69.

Two Phil’s came into Saturday’s race with 23 points from his second-place finish in the Lecomte (G3) and a third-place result in the Risen Star (G2), both at Fair Grounds. Perhaps more important in the context of the Derby, he won the Street Sense (G3) on Oct. 30 in the slop at Churchill Downs.

The question might be what happens May 6 if, as the late publicist John Asher used to say, “it’s always sunny and 75 at Churchill Downs”?

“If he can put this performance in,” Rivelli said before interrupting the thought and shifting to the fact the field will be much, much tougher in the Derby. “The competition will be different. We purposely picked this race. It’s nice when something that you plan out works. We thought let’s go here. It might be a little easier field.”

Now the 24-year training veteran from Chicago with nearly 7,000 starts and 1,766 wins to his name has his first Derby starter. It comes courtesy of breeder Phil Sagan and racing partner Vince Foglia, the owners of the 3-year-old Hard Spun colt who is a three-time stakes winner. 

“I’m so happy for the owners,” Rivelli said. “They stand behind me 100 percent. How we got the horse is pretty unique, too. Friends of friends who bred him, who wanted him to go to me, because ‘Larry will make them win somewhere. Then maybe we’ll sell him.’ I ended up liking him so much, I wanted to sell him in-house to my guys. Vinny said, ‘Go ahead, buy him.’”

As for the chance to walk from the stable through the backstretch gap, around the clubhouse turn and into the paddock for America’s biggest race, Rivelli sounded like he was already embracing the moment.

“It’s a dream come true. That’s what we do this for,” he said. “This is it. But there’ll be others there. That’s for sure. But for me, that’s what I do it for. That’s what we wake up for.”

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