Owner Ahmed Zayat finished second with Pioneerof the Nile in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and didn’t even get to the 2010 Run for the Roses when early favorite Eskendereya was injured in late April and didn’t run. He had won the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial by a combined 18 1/4 lengths before his injury.
Mike Mitchell has been training horses for 36 years and has never started a horse in the Derby.
So along comes a 2-year-old colt named Jaycito, who last weekend broke his maiden with a one-length victory in the $250,000 Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes during the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet. He raced four-wide practically the whole way and still outran even-money favorite J P’s Gusto to the wire in the 1 1/16-mile race.
So you’d assume it’s on to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, right?
Well, not so fast. It seems Zayat and Mitchell have their eyes on a bigger prize.
“The ultimate race we want to run in is the Derby,” Mitchell said in the winner’s circle last Saturday. “If everything is good and the boss (Zayat) is good, we’re going to shoot for the Breeders’ Cup race. But if not, we want to have him ready for the Derby. The horse will tell us.”
What the son of Victory Gallop told Zayat and Mitchell in the Norfolk was that they have a legitimate Derby contender. After running second in his six-furlong bow on Aug. 21 at Del Mar, he broke poorly and had a wide trip in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8 while finishing second behind J P’s Gusto.
But the colt was just getting started.
“We just always thought he was a two-turn horse,” Mitchell said. “He just looks like he’s begging for two turns. He can run a mile and a quarter. I mean, he can run far. But he’s going to get better with age, too.”
Mitchell did not have a problem with the fact jockey Mike Smith had Jaycito about four-wide virtually the entire way in the Norfolk.
“He’s out of trouble, he’s not going to get stopped,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t give (Smith) any instructions. I didn’t tell him to ride him like he does Zenyatta or anything like that, but he was out of trouble.”
Said Smith: “He seems like he can get even better. He’s still got some baby fat on him and he’s still growing, getting stronger every day. He’s still a little green about running, but he’s full of talent.”
Talented enough to have Mitchell thinking Kentucky Derby seven months before the horses load into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.