Starlight is sitting pretty
The Starlight Racing guys couldn’t see exactly what happened.
They couldn’t hear anything definitive, either, with all the people around them yelling.
So they didn’t fully trust what everyone was saying until they got better information.
That came from trainer Todd Pletcher’s groom, who had a good view of Intense Holiday’s victory by a nose over Albano in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Saturday.
What Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg and his Starlight partner, Jack Wolf, can see clearly now is that they have one of the top contenders for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
It’s been a six-year dry spell for Starlight trying to get a horse to the Derby, but Intense Holiday, a very late foal who is still learning and maturing despite seven races since last July, gives them a serious shot.
Intense Holiday overcame some adversity on Saturday, but had a Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, in the saddle, and a running style that should suit Churchill Downs.
“We do feel very good about the opportunity we’ve been afforded with this horse,” Lucarelli said Sunday afternoon after flying back from New Orleans with his wife, Barbara.
Pletcher’s winter base is in Florida, but after what was considered a good third to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, despite the severe outside post at speed-favoring Gulfstream Park, Intense Holiday was sent to Fair Grounds and its 1,346-foot home stretch for his next start.
In the paddock before the Risen Star, he reacted to some jumpy behavior by Interchange and a too-tight girth strap that had to be adjusted.
Smith got him warmed up and he seemed fine in the gate, but the jockey said he spun his wheels just enough at the start to create an anxious moment and had to downshift a little and maneuver through some traffic on the first turn.
Intense Holiday came from near the back of the 14-horse field to catch the front-running Albano at the wire. Not that the Starlight group could tell from the apron behind the finish line.
“We had the worst seat in the house,” Lucarelli said.
Based on last year’s qualifying points standings, Intense Holiday has clinched a spot in the Derby gate.
By Sunday, he was already tucked safely back in his stall at Palm Meadows in Florida, but will point toward the Grade I Louisiana Derby back at Fair Grounds on March 29. It’s not official yet, but Smith said he’d like to ride him back.
More waves of Derby preps will come forward in the coming weeks, with new “now” horses jumping into the spotlight.
Lucarelli and Starlight will wait, and enjoy the view from their perch, with a long-striding horse who has a determined running style that fits the long stretch at Churchill.
“I really do think we’re in a good spot,” Lucarelli said.