Luck was finally with Itsmyluckyday at Saratoga on Saturday as the four-year-old colt survived a claim of foul to register his first top-level victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward.
Tracking closely behind Moreno, his conqueror in the $1.5 million Whitney on August 2, Itsmyluckyday chased a :24, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5 pace over a fast track that been playing kindly to speed all afternoon. Never more than 1 1/2 lengths behind Moreno, Itsmyluckyday challenged the leader around the far turn and a battle ensued between them for the final quarter-mile.
Clinging to a narrow advantage passing the eighth pole, Moreno came out and commenced a series of bumps with Itsmyluckyday, who kept grinding toward the lead. Approaching the wire, Itsmyluckyday edged clear and was up a half-length at the finish, with Junior Alvarado aboard Moreno standing up in the irons. A claim of foul by Alvarado against the winner was subsequently disallowed.
"The other horse (Moreno) came over and bumped into my horse. I didn't bump that horse," said jockey Paco Lopez, who guided Itsmyluckyday to victory in 1:48 4/5 over 1 1/8 miles.
The Woodward was the first outing for Itsmyluckyday while wearing blinkers. In the Whitney, Itsmyluckyday was held safe by Moreno, who led wire-to-wire in winning by 1 1/4 lengths.
"The last time, the horse looked outside and inside and was looking too much," Lopez said. "We worked him in the blinkers and I worked him twice, and he was unbelievable in the blinkers both times."
Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., who trains Itsmyluckyday for Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, was understandably proud of his colt.
"It's like when you have a child that does something out of the ordinary, exceptional, that you know he could do; that's what it felt like," Plesa said. "I mean, horses aren't your children, but we take great pride in our horses; we take great pride in our craft. He did what he needed to do in a manner nobody would dispute was spot on or that he was the best horse today."
Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno, was more philosophical about his colt's narrow defeat than he was following last year's Travers, when he accused the winning rider aboard Will Take Charge of using an illegal device.
"Our horse got bounced up, bam-bam-bam. Who knows? The horse ran his race. Sometimes you run second, sometimes you win. It was Eddie turn," Guillot said. "My horse is consistent. He ran his race. What are you going to do? Go to bed, rest, get up in the morning and start all over again."
Moreno, the 5-2 favorite, finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Prayer for Relief, who was one length ahead of Zivo. The order of finish was rounded out by Stephanoatsee, Last Gunfighter, Long River, Romansh, and Norumbega. Micromanage was scratched in favor of the Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing on Labor Day.
The Woodward was the eighth stakes win for Itsmyluckyday, whose biggest wins previously were Grade 3 scores in the 2013 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park and the July 6 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. He's also accounted for the 2012 editions of the Fasig-Tipton Dash and Foolish Pleasure at Calder, the 2013 Gulfstream Park Derby, and the Best of the Rest and Majestic Light, a pair of $75,000 stakes at Monmouth run earlier this year.
Among the notable runner-up finishes by Itsmyluckyday were in last year's Preakness at Pimlico and Florida Derby at Gulfstream, as well as the aforementioned Whitney earlier this month. His record now stands at 19-9-4-1, $1,662,600.
A son of 2007 Woodward winner and champion Lawyer Ron, Itsmyluckyday was reared by the stakes-placed Viva La Slew, a Doneraile Court half-sister to Mexican champion Medaglia d'Orizaba and stakes winner Ready to Live. This is the extended family of French classic winner Astronomer Royal, multiple Grade 1 winner Vicar, and Grade 2 hero Navesink River.
Itsmyluckyday was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm and sold as a $110,000 OBS two-year-old in training.