Racing on the synthetic for the first time, Two Phil's paid homage to his sire Hard Spun’s victory in the same Derby prep on synthetic 16 years earlier with a resounding score in the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby Steaks, giving his owners, trainer, and jockey a coveted trip to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
“The original plan probably wasn’t to run in this spot,” Rivelli said. “I was just looking for the best route to get Two Phil’s to the Kentucky Derby. With this race on the calendar, I thought it was the perfect timing and perfect spot. We’re on our way to the Derby.”
Facing a field of Turfway regulars in addition to the impressive last-out John Battaglia winner Congruent and graded stakes winner Major Dude from the Todd Pletcher barn, Two Phil’s was more than ready to bring his ‘A’ game Saturday, prepping for the Jeff Ruby with a five-furlong tune-up over the surface the weekend before. Positioned in mid-pack early as Funtastic Again streaked to a :23.49 first quarter and :47.84 half-mile, Loveberry kept Two Phil’s out of trouble down the backstretch and rounding the final turn, he launched a powerful four-wide rally from the outside.
Head and head with Major Dude into the stretch, Two Phil’s motored home a clear 5 1/4-length winner in his Tapeta synthetic track debut. He stopped the clock in a time of 1:49.03.
Major Dude, who moved with Two Phil’s with three-eighths of a mile remaining, ran on for second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Funtastic Again in third.
Two Phil’s Jeff Ruby triumph vaulted him to the top of the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 123 points. Major Dude and Funtastic Again put their names into the Derby picture, earning 40 and 30 points. Wadsworth, the fourth-place finisher, took home 20 points. Maker's Candy, not an original Triple Crown nominee, would need to become a late nominee to earn 10 points for running fifth.
“Last time (in the Risen Star) he had a beautiful trip but he seems to do his best running while behind horses,” Loveberry said of Two Phil's. “I think he’s getting better with each start. He ran well in the Lecomte but I thought he was even better in the Risen Star. It’s just very exciting to be partnered with a horse like this and a team that’s supported me.
“This horse is really special to us. And he’s won at Churchill Downs before. I hope it rains on Derby Day again.” -- Co-written by Corrie McCroskey