09/23/2010 2:47PM

First Dude tries to gain elusive second career win in Pennsylvania Derby

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
First Dude was second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, Haskell, and Travers.

As well as First Dude has run against some of the best 3-year-olds of his generation, he is still in search of his second career victory. Perhaps it will come in Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, formerly Philadelphia Park.

Based on his second-place finish in the Preakness, and third-place finishes in the Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Travers, First Dude will likely go off favored in the Pennsylvania Derby, the marquee event of a 12-race card that begins at 12:05 p.m. Eastern and includes the $200,000 Turf Amazon for female sprinters.

A field of seven was entered for the Pennsylvania Derby, run at 1 1/8 miles, but trainer John Kimmel said Thursday he is “90 percent certain” to scratch Friend or Foe to possibly await the Kelso at Belmont Park on Oct. 3.

A six-horse field was probably not what Parx Racing officials had in mind when they moved the Pennsylvania Derby from its traditional Labor Day spot to the end of September. But given the attrition rate in the 3-year-old division, it’s a competitive group.

Preakness and Haskell winner Lookin At Lucky is headed for the Indiana Derby on Oct 2. Fly Down, winner of the Dwyer and runner-up in the Belmont and Travers, is pointing to the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont the same day. Travers Stakes winner Afleet Express, Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, and West Virginia Derby winner Concord Point are all shelved due to injury.

First Dude has run competitively against most of the above 3-year-olds. He was narrowly caught in the Preakness by Lookin At Lucky, and beaten a length by Drosselmeyer in the Belmont. He again was no match for Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell before getting beat 6 3/4 lengths by Afleet Express in the Travers.

“We do need to win one, we want to win one,” trainer Dale Romans said. “He’s made a lot of money, he’s run so well every time. We could’ve run him someplace else, but I’d hate to pass up a million-dollar race.”

Though he had no issues with how Ramon Dominguez has ridden First Dude, Romans is making a change to Robby Albarado for the Pennsylvania Derby. First Dude gets in with 114 pounds, eight pounds less than stakes winners Exhi, A Little Warm, and Afleet Again.

With the likely scratch of Friend or Foe, First Dude will break from the outside post, with speed horses Exhi, A Little Warm, and Morning Line inside of him. Of course, First Dude has plenty of speed himself.

“Robby can decide whether he wants to go out and hook them, or try to clear or sit off of them,” Romans said. “There are no real instructions.”

A Little Warm will try to bounce back off a fifth-place finish in the Travers. Trainer Tony Dutrow said the combination of two very fast races, picking up 11 pounds off his Jim Dandy win, and a wide trip into the first turn, may have been too much for A Little Warm to overcome in the Travers.

Though A Little Warm’s connections were initially thinking of waiting a week to run the horse, the allure of a $1 million pot against a short field in their own backyard was too much to pass.

“It doesn’t look like the most difficult race a horse has ever competed in,” Dutrow said. “The upside is obvious. We’re taking a try, I don’t know how it will go. I am feeling positive about A Little Warm going to Philadelphia Park and running the way A Little Warm does.”

Because the decision to run A Little Warm wasn’t made until entry day, regular rider John Velazquez had already taken the call on the Nick Zito-trained Morning Line, who comes off an 11-length allowance win at Saratoga. Garret Gomez rides A Little Warm.

After winning four stakes on synthetic surfaces, Exhi finished a good second to Concord Point in the West Virginia Derby on dirt.

“I think it proved that he’s a capable horse on the dirt, that he wasn’t just winning because it was on synthetic,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s a horse that’s always trained exceptionally well on the dirt.”

Afleet Again, fourth in the Travers, figures to offer the most value in the race and should be a factor in the stretch.

Severe Weather, beaten for a $25,000 claiming tag at Penn National last out, looks overmatched.