Zaikov Returns Friday
Castellano Poised to Make History
Itsmyluckyday and Normandy Invasion Getting Back to Work
BOYNTON BEACH, FL - Nine months after his impressive maiden victory, Zaikov returns to Gulfstream Park in an optional claiming allowance on Friday.
The Arindel Farm homebred will break from post six of 10 under jockey Javier Castellano in the sixth race, going six furlongs on the main track.
With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, Zaikov romped by 14 ¼ lengths in his unveiling on March 15, running six furlongs in 1:09.78. He has tuned up for his return with three consecutive bullet works at Palm Meadows, including five furlongs in 1:01.20 on Dec. 7.
“We had a shin issue that he ended up getting quite a bit of time off for,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “They did a really good job at the farm with him and he’s come back and he’s training well.”
Pletcher also considered bringing Zaikov, a Distorted Humor colt, back in a similar spot going one mile two races later, but opted for the shorter trip.
“If there was one at seven-eighths, I probably would have went that way, but I figured we’d just ease him back into it. He’s obviously a very talented horse. He showed a lot in his debut, and we hope he continues moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Pletcher plans to set the bar higher for Hierro, a Grade 3 winner on dirt who won for the first time on turf on Sunday at Gulfstream, a professional effort in his second career start on grass.
Hierro finished fifth of eight in his turf debut at Belmont Park on Oct. 14, beaten less than two lengths. He won the Derby Trial (G3) at Churchill Downs last April for previous trainer Steve Asmussen.
“His first out I wasn’t sure how well he handled it,” Pletcher said. “John Velazquez came back and said the race was better than it looked. He said he handled the grass well and wouldn’t be afraid to run him back on it. We kind of trained him on both and were looking for the right spot. We’re running out of allowance options for him, so we’ll probably have to look next at some sort of stake.”
Castellano Ready to Make History
After a quick trip home to New York to see his family, jockey Javier Castellano is back at Gulfstream and poised to make history.
The 36-year-old rider needs just $8,850 in purses to break the North American single-season earnings record set by Ramon Dominguez in 2012. Dominguez, 37, was forced to retire in June, five months after being seriously injured in a spill at Aqueduct.
Castellano is named in six of 10 races on Friday’s card at Gulfstream. He enters the day leading all jockeys with both 344 wins and $25,626,003 in purse earnings in 2013. Dominguez banked $25,634,852 last year.
“It means a lot to me because when you start riding horses, you don’t think you’re going to get to that level, and the level where I’m at is amazing. I’m blessed,” Castellano said.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Ramon Dominguez, because Ramon Dominguez is such a great guy, a very good friend of mine, very close to me. I feel so flattered to be at that level, to win so many races and get the chance to break the earnings record. I feel so great and so thankful at the same time. I appreciate everyone that's helped me get to that level.”
The two-time defending Gulfstream winter meet riding champion, with 112 wins in 2011-12 and 100 in 2012-13, Castellano is off to another good start. He won with seven of his first 18 mounts last weekend, including each of his first two in his Dec. 6 debut, and bagging three more on Sunday.
Castellano has 3,616 career victories and is the favorite to earn his first Eclipse Award as top jockey. The ceremony will be held at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18, 2014.
“It was a great weekend. I’m looking forward to the meet,” he said. “Seven wins, it’s unbelievable. I’m very thankful and blessed at the same time to ride those kinds of horses. I’m very lucky, very fortunate, to be in this spot.”
Itsmyluckyday Preparing for First Work
A multiple stakes winner at Gulstream last winter, Preakness (G1) runner-up Itsmyluckyday is nearing a return to the work tab.
The 3-year-old Lawyer Ron colt is stabled at Palm Meadows with trainer Eddie Plesa, who is looking forward to getting his stable star back to the races.
“He made a big splash last year at Gulstream and was fortunate to finish second in the Preakness and then got injured in the race after that,” Plesa said. “He’s back in training now and he’ll probably have his first work at the end of this month. He’ll run sometime at the Gulfstream meet.”
Itsmyluckyday stamped himself a Kentucky Derby contender with wins in the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull (G3) before running second to Orb in the Florida Derby (G1). Orb went on to win the Derby while Itsmyluckyday was 15th, but he rebounded with a strong showing in the Preakness.
In his subsequent start, Itsmyluckday was pulled up facing Verrazano in the Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth Park and was later diagnosed with a pelvic fracture, similar to that of 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who came back from an eight-month layoff to run second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and then win the 2012 Dubai World Cup.
“Certain injuries, you say to yourself, ‘You hope he comes back.’ What he had was pretty black and white,” Plesa said. “They get over it, they heal 100 percent and there are no side effects. Lucky enough for him, as much time as we’ve lost, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter because we can see that he’s getting closer to where he’s going to be working and then running.”
Plesa has been encouraged by the energy Itsmyluckyday has shown in the mornings.
“He’s exactly the same as he was when he went to the Preakness,” he said. “He used to drag me around that barn every morning, and he’s dragging us around the barn now. It’s exciting to have him getting ready to run. When he’s ready to run, then two or three weeks out we’ll find something for him.”
Normandy Invasion Back on Track for Brown
Trainer Chad Brown had high hopes for Normandy Invasion in 2013 before a deep abscess in his front hoof ended the Tapit colt’s season prematurely.
Now, Normandy Invasion is back with Brown and galloping at Palm Meadows, and nearing his first workout since the spring.
“He just started back galloping a couple of weeks ago, and he’s about ready to breeze,” Brown said. “We’re just taking it day by day. We’ll let him tell us when he’s ready.”
A maiden winner last November at Aqueduct, Normandy Invasion finished second in the Remsen (G2), fifth in the Risen Star (G2) and second in the Wood Memorial (G1) before giving Brown his first Kentucky Derby starter.
Sent off at 9-1, Normandy Invasion took the lead at the top of the stretch and held it to the eighth pole before tiring to finish fourth. Kept out of the Preakness and Belmont by design to await a summer campaign, Normandy Invasion was sidelined in early August to await 2014.
“Normandy actually spent the summer and fall over at WinStar Farm, and they got him started for us and sent him to Palm Meadows in terrific shape,” Brown said. “He’s a horse that has shown a lot of talent. He’s had his fair share of bad luck and a couple bumps in the road, but at the end of the day he’s a really nice horse with a lot of talent and we’re happy to have him back. I think that he’s moving really well right now under tack, and we’re anxious to get him back breezing.”
GULFSTREAM PARK is a Stronach Group company, North America’s leading Thoroughbred racetrack owner/operator. The Stronach Group racetracks include Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park & Casino, Golden Gate Fields, Portland Meadows, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the world-famous Preakness. The company owns and operates the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, and is one of North America's top race horse breeders through its award-winning Adena Springs operation. The Stronach Group is one of the world's largest suppliers of pari-mutuel wagering systems, technologies and services. Its companies include AmTote, a global leader in wagering technology; XpressBet, an Internet and telephone account wagering service; and Monarch Content Management, which acts as a simulcast purchase and sales agent of horseracing content for numerous North American racetracks and wagering outlets.The Stronach Group is also a major producer of televised horseracing programming through its HRTV cable and satellite network and is North America's premier supplier of virtual online horseracing games, as well as a leading producer of social media content for the horseracing industry. For more information contact David Joseph at email@example.com or call 954.457.6451.