The 4-year-old daughter of Congrats has also showcased the somewhat under-the-radar talents of Luca Panici, a journeyman jockey whose popularity with trainers and bettors has also been on the rise in South Florida.
The 41-year-old native of Milan, Italy has the return mount aboard Flutterby for Saturday’s $100,000 Millions Distaff Preview at Gulfstream Park West, hoping to expand upon the feel-good tale of a horse, her breeder/owner/trainer and her jockey.
“It’s a nice story, because Mr. B. is a great person. He’s not only the trainer; he’s the breeder and the owner. The filly is part of his family,” Panici said. “It’s a nice story, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
Panici has played a key role in Flutterby’s ascension to the top of the filly-and-mare ranks in South Florida, deftly managing to keep the brilliantly fast and headstrong Florida-bred filly from expending too much energy early in her races without taking the free-running powerhouse out of her game.
“Right now, she’s less nervous in the post parade, but I can’t say she is relaxing more in her races, because once they open the gate, she’s a fast, strong filly,” Panici said. “But if she’s second, you can sit for a while. She’s never been a crazy horse. She’s just fast and strong from the beginning.”
Panici’s steady hand with his mounts has become increasingly recognized by trainers, raising his profile in the highly competitive South Florida jockey colony. Currently sixth in the Gulfstream Park riding standings after winning both ends of Wednesday’s early daily double, Panici is on course to nearly double his previous career-high annual purse earnings of $1.3 million.
“It’s a great feeling. I’ve always wanted to ride the best horses possible. When you have the opportunities to ride for the big trainers, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “When you have the opportunity to ride the big horses for the big trainers, it’s a motivation to work hard and win races for them. I’m thankful for the opportunities.”
After notching his first victory in Milan at the age of 16, Panici went on to win more than 500 races in Europe before becoming enchanted with American racing in the late 1990s. After spending winters and making a few forays into South Florida racing, he fully committed to riding in the U.S. in 2010 and has steadily built his business through patience and hard work.
Panici’s dedication to the “best job in the world” has been paying dividends, especially this year with Flutterby, who is rated as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in a field of nine fillies and mares Saturday. After winning the Sea Lily in May, Flutterby set a pressured pace before finishing second in the Princess Rooney (G2) in July. She enters the Millions Distaff Preview off back-to-back victories in the Gold Mover and Added Elegance Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
“She’s improving a lot, especially in her last couple of races, starting when she finished second behind Merry Meadow, Mark Hennig’s filly, in the Princess Rooney,” Panici said. “Since that race, she’s been she’s been improving. In her last race, she ran huge. She’s more mature and doing better and better.”