Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
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Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. is featured this week. He has built an impressive operation since leaving his native Barbados in 2011 and arriving in South Florida with two horses. He will saddle Collaborate in the $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. He also has Moonlite Strike and Awesome Gerry set for the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park on that same day. Joseph-trained Drain the Clock ran second in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes last month and will be pointed to one-turn races going forward.
Most eyes will be on Collaborate. The Into Mischief colt, purchased for $600,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, emerged as a Derby prospect when he was a commanding 12 ½-length winner on Feb. 27 at Gulfstream in only his second career start. He is owned by Three Chimneys Farm and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds.
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby offers the top four finishers Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale, virtually assuring the winner and runner-up a place in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Joseph saddled his first Kentucky Derby starter last year. New York-bred Ny Traffic, a bargain $22,000 purchase by John Fanelli, had a troubled trip and ran eighth.
Tyler Gaffalione will ride Collaborate in the tradition-rich Florida Derby. They will break from post 9 in a field of 11. They are rated as the fourth choice at 6-1. Greatest Honour, who has dominated Florida’s prep races, is heavily favored at 6-5.
PEDULLA: It looks as though you are playing from behind with Collaborate. What happened?
JOSEPH: He came to us around October. He initially was going to make his debut in January and he got a little sick so we lost a month. We are a little behind schedule, but you’ve got to play with the cards you’re dealt.
PEDULLA: He made his debut on Feb. 6 and ran fifth, going six furlongs on a sloppy track. Was that disappointing?
JOSEPH: Yes. For a normal horse, you would have been encouraged by that debut. For the ability he’d shown, it hurt to get him beat. We think he’s such a good horse, I would have liked to keep his record clean, obviously.
PEDULLA: When he won big in his second start, were you surprised he won by that much?
JOSEPH: You know he’s that good, but until you see it, you don’t know. I was more relieved when he won like that, because that is the kind of horse he made us believe that he is.
PEDULLA: Was it a hard decision to take Drain the Clock off the Derby trail?
JOSEPH: We said we were never going to push him on the Derby trail. If he took us there, so be it. We took a chance in the Fountain of Youth and he ran credibly. He ran second to Greatest Honour, who is the favorite for the Florida Derby. If we want to continue on, we could. But just breaking down the kind of horse he is, you have to think he’s better at one turn. We decided to stick to that and help him achieve his full potential instead of pushing him to do something he really doesn’t want to do or is not his best.
PEDULLA: I know you have upgraded your quality. How big is your stable now?
JOSEPH: We have approximately 100 horses.
PEDULLA: Will everything remain at Gulfstream or do you intend to branch out?
PEDULLA: How exciting is it to know how small you started and to be building like this?
JOSEPH: I’m very grateful and thankful. There was a point where I didn’t think it would happen. It had nothing to do with our ability. Barbados is not really known for horse racing. I was realistic that if I asked an owner who was going to go to a Todd Pletcher or Chad Brown or a bigger name, their record was more proven than mine. I had them come to our barn and see that we are just as good or even better and that’s how it took off. One owner referred us to another and it skyrocketed. I’m forever thankful for that because without the owners, I’m nothing. It’s like a basketball player without a basketball.
PEDULLA: With the better quality, do you feel more pressure?
JOSEPH: I feel pressure with every horse for every owner. You want to do as good as you can. As far as the better horses, I want to be in this position. I know that we’re capable. We have a good team put together. Once we have the horses, we’re not going over there intimidated. We’re going over there to give it our best shot.
PEDULLA: What did you learn from your first Derby experience?
JOSEPH: Maybe some earplugs before the race (to keep the horse calm during the walkover to the track). Everything else was pretty routine training-wise.
PEDULLA: What is Collaborate’s greatest strength?
JOSEPH: His greatest strength would be his high cruising speed. He just seems to have a stride on him that is effortless. Obviously, he’s going to face better this time. We’ll see if the stride stays the same.
PEDULLA: Does he have a weakness you are working on?
JOSEPH: I think he is everything you want in a racehorse. But he has to do it before I can give him that accolade. That’s what he’s showing me. Fingers crossed, I hope we get to see that.
PEDULLA: How is Ny Traffic doing?
JOSEPH: Ny Traffic is doing well. He’s probably going to run in the next two weeks or so.
PEDULLA: Do you feel that you will win a Derby at some point?
JOSEPH: If we keep getting these opportunities, we are going to win Derbies. You need the horse. The horse is 85 to 90 percent of the puzzle. Anyone who tells you differently is not telling you the truth. I know we have what it takes to take care of a horse. We have what it takes to get a horse ready. Once we are training for the owners we are training for, I feel there are Derbies for us to win. Hopefully, we’ll get one sooner than later because when you get one off your back, it makes it easier. But I definitely feel there are Derbies for us. I am very optimistic.