The Starlight Racing partners believe they have a good shot to win Saturday’s 140th Kentucky Derby.
Now they have two shots.
The syndicate, co-managed by Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg and Jack Wolf, sealed the deal on Sunday to buy the two-time graded stakes-placed General a Rod in partnership with Skychai Racing.
General a Rod will remain with trainer Mike Maker and will be one of two colts owned by Starlight in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
Risen Star winner Intense Holiday, a buzz horse at Churchill after a tremendous breeze on Sunday, will carry the familiar blue-and-yellow Starlight silks, while General a Rod will run in the orange-and-turquoise colors of Skychai.
Starlight buys horses almost exclusively through the select yearling sales, but Lucarelli said General a Rod has been on Starlight’s radar since January, when Jim Shircliff, a partner in both Starlight and Shychai, asked if they’d be interested in buying the dark bay Roman Ruler colt off the track.
They bought him from J. Armando Rodriguez for an undisclosed amount; Lucarelli and Wolf will make all racing decisions, and General a Rod will run in Shircliff’s silks.
“Jim was trying to buy him in January, and he asked us if we wanted to play. We said yes,” Lucarelli said. “He had a tough work this week, so Jim got in touch with Jack again. It’s like buying stock when it’s not in favor and you hope it goes up.”
General a Rod won the Gulfstream Park Derby at a mile on New Year’s Day, beating another Kentucky Derby prospect — Wildcat Red.
Wildcat Red turned the tables on General a Rod in the next two starts, winning the Fountain of Youth and finishing second to Constitution in the Florida Derby as General a Rod was third.
Constitution is off the Triple Crown trail with an injury, and General a Rod and Wildcat Red could be early pace factors on Saturday.
General a Rod will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who won the Derby on Orb last year.
“He’s a very game horse,” Lucarelli said. “He seems to be a real competitive horse. Now, you just hope he gets the extra eighth of a mile.”
Shircliff, who owns a share in all the Starlight horses, and Wolf have known each other for years, so there was a built-in trust factor when the deal began to take shape over the winter.
Shircliff actually has a stake in three Derby horses — Intense Holiday, General a Rod and Harry’s Holiday, the runner-up to We Miss Artie in the Spiral who is owned by Skychai.
“He’s a great guy who has been in the game a long time and understands it, so we’re comfortable with him, and that goes both ways,” Lucarelli said. “We polled all the partners, and they all felt like this would be another opportunity for us.”
“I have been interested in acquiring this horse for some time, and I’m thrilled that we were finally successful in coming to terms with Mr. Rodriguez,” Shircliff said in a Starlight release.
The post-position draw for the Derby will be held on Wednesday during a live NBCSN broadcast from 5-6 p.m.
Contrary to some speculation, General a Rod, who will get his final breeze over the main track this morning, was not bought to be a rabbit to set up Intense Holiday, Lucarelli said.
Ideally, Starlight would like to see General a Rod just off the pace, and Intense Holiday farther back to close into what is expected to be an honest pace.
“General a Rod would probably take the first shot at it,” Lucarelli said. “Hopefully, he gets up there, and we’re chasing him [with Intense Holiday]. We’ve got two good jockeys, John Velazquez and Joel Rosario.”
Intense Holiday appears to have taken to Churchill Downs and was the talk of the backstretch on Sunday when he put away workmate We Miss Artie in a 48.60 four-furlong breeze followed by a strong gallop-out.
“He’s thrived there and seems like a happy horse,” Lucarelli said. “There are good [workout] times and bad times, but what was more important was the gallop-out. Maybe it was a combination of We Miss Artie having a bad day and us having a spectacular day, but that’s what you’re looking for going into the Derby.
“He just turned 3 last week, and is maturing in front of our eyes.”