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 on Saturday, May 2, at Churchill Downs.
The series continues with a conversation with Saffie Joseph Jr., who is preparing to start Shooting Star Thoroughbreds’ Chance It in the $400,000, Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29 at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/16-mile contest awards Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
Joseph arrived in South Florida from his native Barbados with two horses in 2011 and gradually built his operation. The third generation horseman emerged as Gulfstream Park’s leading trainer last spring and added an exclamation point to a breakthrough season with his first Grade 1 victory when Math Wizard pulled a stunning upset in the Pennsylvania Derby last September.
Chance It, a Florida-bred son of Currency Swap, makes his second start this season after winning his 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 4 at Gulfstream.
PEDULLA: How did Chance It transition from 2 to 3?
JOSEPH: I think he’s learned to relax more and just do what he needs to do on cue. That’s his best attribute, learning to relax more.
PEDULLA: How do you feel about being able to run at your home track in the Fountain of Youth?
JOSEPH: Being able to run at home and out of your own stall is always an advantage. He trains here all the time.
PEDULLA: I saw in his last work you had him gallop behind two horses. Is that something you often do with him?
JOSEPH: We do that a lot with him, let him sit behind horses, just put him in different scenarios that when he faces that scenario in a race, he will be comfortable with it. The last time he ran, the Mucho Macho Man, that was the first time he was that far off the pace. He was actually down inside horses most of the way and he handled it well.
PEDULLA: How do you feel about his ability to handle distance?
JOSEPH: He’s gone a mile and a sixteenth already and that was visually his most impressive race the way he won it. I don’t think a mile and a sixteenth will be any problem for him.
PEDULLA: How about beyond that?
JOSEPH: I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t get a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter. Until they really do it, you don’t know what will be their optimal trip, you know what I mean? But he’s not built like a sprinter. He’s a tall, lanky horse. There is no reason to say he wouldn’t get it. He doesn’t give any indication that distance would be a problem.
PEDULLA: Do you view Dennis’ Moment as the horse to beat in the Fountain of Youth?
JOSEPH: I’m not overly concerned about who we are running against. I just want him to show up and run his race. You are always respectful of every horse in the race, but if he shows up and runs his race, he’s a horse that is going to be there at the end.
PEDULLA: Is it exciting for you to be on the Derby trail?
JOSEPH: For sure. It’s a dream to get these kinds of horses. We’re just blessed to be in the position we are in. We are blessed to have supportive owners, and we are thankful for everything to come to the barn and see these kinds of horses.
PEDULLA: Your father was a trainer. How much did you learn from him?
JOSEPH: He was very influential. When I was learning the basics, he taught me what to do and what not to do. He’s still influential. We talk every day about horses.
PEDULLA: Are you pleased with the progress of your operation?
JOSEPH: Yes. We’re very thankful. Without the owners and the horses, we can’t do anything. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and I like where we’re going. I like the support we’re getting and I think we’re going in the right direction to be very successful. We’re working hard and we have a good team. At the end of the day, it’s teamwork. The owners supply the opportunities and then we have to do the job. The team that we have, my team is second to none.
PEDULLA: Was getting that first Grade 1 with Math Wizard big for you?
JOSEPH: Yes, most definitely. It put us on the map more nationwide to let people know we are capable.
PEDULLA: You’ve come a long way since you arrived in South Florida with two horses. Why did you come to the United States and what is your dream?
JOSEPH: My dream is to win the Kentucky Derby and to be one of the best in the world. That is why I came here. We are living our dream right now.