04/03/2011 8:30PM

Dialed In surges from last to first to nail 68-1 Shackleford in Florida Derby

Bob Coglianese
Dialed In, ridden by Julien Leparoux, barely reaches the wire ahead of extreme longshot Shackleton to win the Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With a performance that moved his trainer Nick Zito to tears, Dialed In moved to the forefront of the Kentucky Derby picture when he rallied from last to a gritty head  victory over the 68-1 Shackleford in Sunday’s $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Soldat, the 3-2 favorite, finished a tiring fifth. 

Dialed In, a son of Mineshaft owned by Robert LaPenta, gave Zito his second straight Florida Derby win and third overall. He also won the race a year ago with Ice Box. By virtue of winning the Florida Derby and capturing the Grade 3 Holy Bull earlier in the meet, Dialed In becomes eligible to earn the Preakness 5.5 bonus of $5.5 million if he were to also go on to win the Preakness on May 21.

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The 60th Florida Derby did not shape up as expected. Shackleford assumed control shortly after the start and was shadowed early by To Honor and Serve and Flashpoint ,who ducked out leaving the gate and never really showed his abundant speed after being hung four wide into the opening turn. Soldat, the 9-5 favorite, raced a little further back than usual after breaking from the rail while Dialed In took his familiar spot at the rear of the field in the run down the backstretch.

Turning for home, Shackleford fended off a bid from to Honor and Serve while the others closest to him including Soldat were fully extended futilely attempting to make up ground on the leader. Meanwhile, Dialed In and jockey Julien Leparoux had commenced their rally leaving the backstretch, continued well wide entering the stretch,  and then finished resolutely down the center of the track to wear down Shackleford in the final strides. It was nearly seven lengths farther back at the end to a tiring To Honor and Serve.

Dialed in completed the nine furlongs in 1:50.07 and paid $7.80.

“I haven’t been this emotional since Strike the Gold,” Zito said in the winner’s circle after the race. “For a lightly raced horse to do what he did is amazing. The track was favoring speed today and he defied the track. Once in a while a special horse comes around and he’s a special horse. Trust me, even grown men cry.”

Trainer Dale Romans was delighted at Shackleford’s performance although the $200,000 in graded earnings he picked  up may still not be enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby field.

“I always had a lot of confidence in him and thought he was a very nice horse,” said Romans. “I wanted to give him a chance to go to the lead today in case the other speed horses weren’t there and when he cleared off I was very happy. Now we’ll just sit back and see if $200,000 gets us in.”

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he would have to regroup following Soldat’s disappointing effort. 

“He didn’t fire his ‘A’ race,” said McLaughlin. “The race didn’t work out like we thought on paper. He took a lot of dirt. It’s a tough place to be on the inside like that.”

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