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In a seeming bump in the road to the Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher and his current Kentucky-bred hopeful, Major Dude, the lead favorite was bested by his lesser-tried rival Two Phil’s for the 2023 Jeff Ruby Steaks stakes race this afternoon at Turfway Park, and not by a little. Rather, Major Dude placed five and a quarter lengths behind a rapidly improving Two Phil’s.
The prep does offer some two hundred Kentucky Derby points, 100 of which go to the victor, assuring Two Phil’s a berth in the big show in May, should his elated trainer Larry Rivelli and their connections decide to go for it.
But no worries for the winning Mr. Pletcher: A place by Major Dude earns a very respectable 50 points, and that sum, this year, seems also to beckon an invite to the Derby.
All’s well that ends well for the two favorites, then, except for this one small disturbing detail: Why was it that Major Dude, who went off as “the” favorite, placed honorably, but so far back at five and a quarter lengths? The “Ruby,” as the Daily Racing Form insists on calling it, isn’t an especially long or even very Derby-like prep race at a mile and a furlong. Just ten of the twelve booked horses ran. Major Dude did have the rail, but Major Dude had champion jock Irad Ortiz up, and if anybody knows how to handle a rail, it’s either one of the two Ortiz brothers.
Feckless youth comes into play in the runup to the Triple Crown, and in the Triple Crown races themselves. Which is a diplomatic way of saying that, as resolutely and abundantly talented as Irad Ortiz is, even an Ortiz can’t dissuade a three-year-old colt from not liking the way a break feels when he’s trapped inside as far as he can possibly be when the starter snaps the gate open and the crush comes down.
If as seems highly likely Major Dude does put in an appearance in the 2023 Kentucky Derby, this will be among the questions he’ll have to answer. Going off in London at more than somewhat entertaining 23-4 odds, Funtastic Again showed spirit and drive and took show just two lengths and a bit behind Major Dude, who, if he is truly being pointed at the Derby, will be watched very closely by his Hall of Fame trainer for the next few weeks, and drilled accordingly.