02/14/2013 2:44PM

Gulfstream Park: Lucky Chappy faces tough task in Mac Diarmida

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Lucky Chappy may be the most talented horse not to have won a race, let alone a graded stakes, in almost 20 months. Trainer Graham Motion is hoping to put an end to that dubious distinction when he sends Lucky Chappy out as one of the favorites Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $150,000 Mac Diarmida.

Lucky Chappy won’t have an easy time picking up that elusive first U.S. victory. Among his nine rivals in the 1 3/8-mile turf race is Newsdad, a multiple Grade 2 winner who was beaten a nose by the veteran Simmard in this same race one year ago.

Other key contenders include Twilight Eclipse, winner of Calder’s Grade 2 McKnight in his 2012 finale; Teaks North, who led throughout to capture the Sunshine Millions Turf in his first start for trainer Michelle Nevin; multiple Grade 3 winner Ioya Bigtime; the Grade 1-placed Fifty Proof; and the red hot Nikki’s Sandcastle.

Lucky Chappy joined Motion’s barn after being purchased privately by Team Valor following a pair of turf wins in Italy at 2. In nine starts on this side of the Atlantic, Lucky Chappy has finished second in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby; second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby; third behind Unbridled Command both last summer in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Saranac and again in his 3-year-old finale in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby; and fourth despite a tough trip in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

“He’s such a hard-knocking horse who has always been right there but just hasn’t been lucky enough to win one,” said Motion. “We gave him a break after he didn’t finish too far behind Unbridled Command in the Hollywood Derby, and he’s been training great for his return. This seems like the logical spot to come back in although things will be a bit different this year because he’ll have to compete against older horses for the first time. I do believe the added distance should be to his advantage. I think it’s really going to help him.”

The Mac Diarmida will be Lucky Chappy’s first start beyond a mile and one-quarter.

Newsdad has been freshened by trainer Bill Mott since rallying from last to defeat Nikki’s Sandcastle by two lengths in the Grade 2 Fayette over Keeneland’s artificial surface in late October. The win snapped a four-race losing skid for Newsdad and was his first since he captured the Grade 2 Pan American over just three rivals here last spring.

Twilight Eclipse will turn back an eighth of a mile from his surprising 1 3/4-length triumph over Mucho Mas Mucho in the McKnight three months earlier. The runner-up returned to flatter that effort when springing an upset of his own to win the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale here last month. Under the allowance conditions of the Mac Diarmida, Twilight Eclipse will carry high weight of 123 pounds as a result of his win in the McKnight.

A fast pace should be assured with Ioya Bigtime, Teaks North, and Fifty Proof in the field. All three have done their best work when on the lead.

Ioya Bigtime led from gate to wire to capture the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs in September. Teaks North went wire to wire to register an impressive 2 1/2-length victory over Doubles Partner last month in the Sunshine Millions. Fifthy Proof used a similar strategy to capture Woodbine’s Sir Barton in his 2012 finale.