Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. The Derby has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Owner John Fanelli is featured this week. After claiming Math Wizard for $25,000 at Gulfstream Park early last year and watching him go on to pull a stunning upset in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at 31-1 odds, Fanelli’s extraordinary good fortune continues as the majority owner of Ny Traffic.
According to Fanelli, he purchased the gray or roan colt by Cross Traffic for $22,000 after he failed to meet a reserve of $27,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. He has since added Cash is King, LC Racing, and Paul Braverman as partners.
Ny Traffic, a New York-bred foaled April 29 and now trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., is entered in the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on Saturday. He will break from post-position 11 with Kendrick Carmouche aboard. As a precaution, the race will be run at Fair Grounds without spectators.
The youngster finished third behind Modernist and Major Fed in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15. He can significantly add to the 10 Derby qualifying points he already owns with a strong performance in the Louisiana Derby. The race awards qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four finishers.
PEDULLA: Ny Traffic was a terrific purchase. How did that come about?
FANELLI: I’ve been very fortunate at that sale so, of course, I went there again with a trainer named Harold Wyner, who has a few horses for me. What I typically like to do is go through the RNAs, the ones that don’t sell, and go back and look at them again. Ny Traffic’s name was initially Linden Lane. He was a late foal and his back wasn’t fully developed. But he had good conformation and good breeding. As soon as he started working him, to his credit Harold Wyner actually said, “I think you have a Derby horse here.”
PEDULLA: Why did you eventually take on new partners?
FANELLI: I learned with Math Wizard sometimes you are selling too cheap, but you are cutting your risk and, in this business, I always want to cut my risk, take some money off the table. I always try to keep the majority interest in any horse. I like to have a little bit of control, not that I need it with the partners I have. They’re great partners. It’s part of the fun, you know.
PEDULLA: Was it a hard decision to move the horse from Harold to Saffie for his 3-year-old season?
FANELLI: One-hundred percent. Harry did such a great job with the horse. I wanted to get the horse to Florida to see how he would respond to the warm weather and that level of competition.
PEDULLA: Were you encouraged by his performance in the Risen Star?
FANELLI: He ran great. Javier [Castellano] rode him and he came back and said he’s still a little green. He was looking around and said he jumped a shadow out there and he was still like a length behind the winner and only lost by maybe a nose for second. I was really happy with the race. He showed he belonged and he could make the distance.
PEDULLA: How did you settle on the Louisiana Derby?
FANELLI: We felt the best place for him timing-wise was the Louisiana Derby, and we also wanted to avoid [Bob] Baffert a little bit at Oaklawn. He had already run over the [Fair Grounds] track, so we figured let’s give him a shot there.
PEDULLA: How do you rate his chances in the Louisiana Derby?
FANELLI: We added blinkers. I hate to say this because I am a very superstitious person, but I think he’s going to run a big race.
PEDULLA: How important is the addition of blinkers?
FANELLI: I think it’s going to mature him a little bit. He’s like a baby. He’s looking around. He hasn’t figured it all out yet. I think the blinkers will help sharpen him up a little bit and help him understand the task at hand. I think it can only help him. Going the longer distance with the blinkers, I think he’s going to show even more speed.
PEDULLA: Does he need to show you a lot on Saturday to convince you that you have a Derby horse?
FANELLI: He has to finish one, two, three. We already feel we belong, but this would really cement him as a clear-cut Derby horse.
PEDULLA: Did your success with Math Wizard change your level of involvement in the industry?
FANELLI: I’m still doing the same thing I did. I’m a claiming guy and I buy two or three young horses a year. I did buy my first yearling this year. I might dabble at the sales a bit more this year, but I’ve really kept the same ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. The only thing Math Wizard did was put me on the map a little bit and give me an education about what to do with a better horse. Obviously, Saffie is wonderful and knows how to train a racehorse, so I value his opinion greatly.
PEDULLA: You had to be disappointed when Math Wizard ran eighth in the 1 1/16-mile Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park in his first start this season. How do you feel about his chances in the Dubai World Cup?
FANELLI: We were really disappointed. We thought we had a big shot there. I’m not blaming Javier, but the trip wasn’t great. I think he was widest of all and it wasn’t his distance. It was a little short for him. We kind of made excuses for him, which I hate doing. But he came back off of that race and he was a different horse when he started training. We’re adding blinkers. I just think everything is going to set up right for him. If he can make that big kick and close, we’ve got a shot.
PEDULLA: You had Math Wizard last year. You have Ny Traffic this year. Is it surreal for you?
FANELLI: I think lightning has struck again. I feel blessed because I know it is so hard to do what I did. I’ll take a little bit of credit, but I think the man upstairs is just looking down and blessing me.