Lord Miles after his giant upset in the Wood Memorial (Joe Labozzetta)
NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Lord Miles, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr. and piloted by Paco Lopez, returned a whopping $120.50 for his 59-1 upset score in Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Curlin colt, a Kentucky homebred for Vegso Racing Stable, finished strongest of all in an all-out battle to the wire while racing to the outside of favored Hit Show with regally-bred maiden Dreamlike staying on gamely at the rail.
The rivals came together in the final sixteenth with Lord Miles scoring by a nose over the Manny Franco-piloted favorite Hit Show and the Jose Ortiz-ridden Dreamlike finishing a further head back in third. The pacesetter, Arctic Arrogance, finished 5 1/4-lengths in arrears in fourth, a head better than fifth-place Classic Catch.
Lord Miles survived a stewards’ inquiry and jockey objection from Franco to secure the win in the nine-furlong test for sophomores and garner the maximum allotment in the 100-40-30-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifier. Lord Miles, who is sixth on the leaderboard with 105 points, covered the nine-furlongs in 1:51.17 and earned a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
Joseph, Jr. has saddled two previous Derby runners, including Ny Traffic [8th, 2020] and last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby-winner, White Abarrio, who finished 16th in a race won by 80-1 shot Rich Strike.
“This will be our third Derby in the last four years and I’ve learned just to get there is good and then hope for the best,” Joseph, Jr. said. “Last year, with White Abarrio, we thought we’d have a pretty good chance, but it didn’t work out the way we wanted. But you appreciate being there and anything can happen in the Derby, like we saw last year with Rich Strike.”
Lord Miles shipped out of Belmont Park by van this morning to return to Gulfstream Park and continue preparations for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby to be held on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
“He might have both works here or he could work once and then go to Kentucky, but we’ll give it a couple days and come up with a plan,” Joseph, Jr. said. “He was good this morning. He checked up well, ate up his food and came out of the race well.”
Peter Vegso, a native of Montreal, Canada, campaigned multiple Grade 1-winner Splendid Blended and Grade 1-winner Go Between. More recently, Vegso Racing Stable’s multiple graded-stakes winner Officiating captured last year’s Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap here for Joseph, Jr. Vegso Racing Stable also bred Caledonia Road, who was named 2017 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.
Joseph, Jr. said Vegso was over the moon with Saturday’s thrilling score by his homebred out of the Majestic Warrior mare Lady Esme.
“He was ecstatic. He’s never had a Derby runner before and, for me, that’s very important,” Joseph, Jr. said. “He’s been in racing a long time and bred good horses. He’s bred a Breeders’ Cup winner, so to give him an opportunity to be there is gratifying. At the end of the day, the owners give us these chances and it’s our duty to produce for them. It’s fulfilling that God blessed us to make it happen.”
Joseph, Jr. noted that Lord Miles had raced on-and-off the bridle in his races leading up to the Wood Memorial. He made his first three starts at Gulfstream Park, winning on debut traveling six furlongs ahead of a closing third in the Much Macho Man in January. He added blinkers for the Grade 3 Holy Bull and was a distant sixth before a last-out fifth with blinkers off and Lopez aboard for the first time in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.
Joseph, Jr. credited Lopez for his attentive ride on Saturday.
“He traveled well yesterday but between the five-eighths and the half, he came off the bridle and it looked like he was almost done, but Paco was able to keep him going,” Joseph, Jr. said.
The Barbados-born conditioner, a third-generation horseman, has become one of the top trainers at Gulfstream Park where he recently defended his title at the prestigious Championship Meet. There, he was able to watch first hand two of his strongest rivals for Derby glory in Tapit Trice, who captured Saturday’s Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, and Forte, the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt, who won the Grade 1 Florida Derby at the Hallandale Beach oval.
Joseph, Jr. said he has the utmost respect for Forte and Tapit Trice, who are both conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, but is hopeful that Lord Miles can level up once more.
“The more he races, the better he’s going to get and he’s going to need to improve because Forte is a deserving favorite and Tapit Trice would be my Derby pick if I didn’t have a horse in the race,” Joseph, Jr. said. “I think there’s more improvement there. The distance should be alright. The main thing with him is his greenness to stay on the bridle. It worked out much better yesterday because he broke well and was able to stay in the clear. The Derby is going to be a different story with 20 horses. Hopefully, he keeps learning and gets more focused.”
Joseph, Jr. said Lord Miles would likely thrive at the 12-furlong distance of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, the third leg of the Triple Crown slated for June 10.
“We’ll take it one race at a time, but you would think he would definitely like the distance with his running style and being by Curlin, there’s a lot of stamina,” Joseph, Jr. said.
Joseph, Jr. said Arindel’s Florida homebred Knox, who finished eighth in the Wood Memorial, will stay with his string at Belmont Park. The Brethren colt, piloted by Jose Gomez, was hustled into the first turn and bumped with rivals before saving ground down the backstretch. The even effort, finishing 10 lengths back of his stablemate, earned a career-best 78 Beyer.
“He tried. He wasn’t disgraced and only beat 10 lengths,” Joseph, Jr. said. “Down the backstretch, he was more forwardly placed and into the bridle than he’s ever been, but from there he tapered away.
“Maybe down on the inside wasn’t the best place to be yesterday. But it might have just been his best also,” added Joseph, Jr. “We’ll leave him in New York and look at a ‘starter $50K’ first and then take a shot again at the big summer races.”
The victory by Lord Miles was a welcome reprieve for Joseph, Jr., who was disappointed to have to scratch C Two Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s White Abarrio from the co-featured Grade 1 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets.
The Grade 1-winner spiked a temperature earlier in the week after shipping up from Florida, and will now focus on the one-turn mile Grade 3, $175,000 Westchester on May 5 as a prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap on June 10 at Belmont Park.
“He’s been fine, but still coughing a bit,” Joseph, Jr. said. “Hopefully, that quiets down next week and we can get him back under tack by Wednesday or Thursday and point to the Belmont race [the Westchester].”