04/22/2009 11:00PM

Time off good for Triumphant Flight


It was in late October of last year that Triumphant Flight was taken out of training, less than a month after winning his first stakes. Trainer Eric Kruljac detected heat in the colt's knee, ending any thoughts of a late-season stakes for the California-bred 2-year-old.

While it may have seemed like a bad time for a highly promising juvenile to leave the track, the forced time off may turn out to be the best thing that happened to Triumphant Flight.

Six months later, Triumphant Flight returned to win the San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita on March 28. The race served as a prep for Saturday's $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Triumphant Flight's camp - owner Tyler Seltzer and Kruljac - never had serious thoughts about a Kentucky Derby prep. The colt was not even nominated to the Triple Crown. Kruljac admits such a plan could have ended badly.

"I would have broken him down," he said. "The likeliness is very strong. Tyler has been so good about doing what was right for the horse."

Meanwhile, the Snow Chief Stakes is an ideal fit for Triumphant Flight. The race is run over 1 1/8 miles for statebreds, immediately reducing the pool of potential rivals. Triumphant Flight must beat Feisty Suances and Unbridled Roman, who were fifth and sixth in the Santa Anita Derby on April 4 and are seeking their first stakes wins.

Triumphant Flight reached that milestone way back in September, winning the Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairplex Park. A winner of 3 of 5 starts and $206,543, Triumphant Flight has been first or second in all of his starts.

Seltzer, a resident of Encinitas, Calif., is content staying with California-breds, for now.

"You can go back and forth with unrealistic hopes," Seltzer said. "I was so excited to have a game, hard-knocking horse and there is so much prize money out there for California-breds, I was trying to be realistic about it."

Triumphant Flight made an early impression last spring and summer. After beating maidens at Hollywood Park in his debut in June, he was second by a nose in the Graduation Stakes for statebreds at Del Mar in July.

"He stumbled at the start and lost a shoe," Kruljac said.

In the Barretts Juvenile, restricted to graduates of Barretts sales, Triumphant Flight won by three lengths, setting up a start in the California Cup Juvenile. Triumphant Flight was always near the front in that race over 1 1/16 miles and faded in the final furlong to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Lucky Primo.

After that race, Kruljac detected heat in a knee.

"I'll just let him grow up," he said at the time. "I want to keep him around for a few years."

Triumphant Flight was turned out briefly last fall before resuming training. There was hope of a start at Christmastime at Santa Anita, but that plan fell apart.

In his comeback, in the San Miguel Stakes over six furlongs, Triumphant Flight led throughout, winning by a half-length. The Snow Chief Stakes will be his longest race, which is a concern to Kruljac.

"Hopefully, he'll stretch out," Kruljac said. "Genetically, they can do it or they don't. Maybe it would be more ideal if we had another prep to stretch him out."

Triumphant Flight's sire, Chullo, was a stayer. He won the Carlos Pellegrino Stakes and the Argentine Derby in South America. He stood at Applebite Farms in French Camp, Calif. Applebite Farms bred Triumphant Flight, who is out of the Kennedy Road mare Jetinwith Kennedy.

Considering his female family, Triumphant Flight was a bargain when purchased for $36,000 at the 2007 California October yearling sale at Barretts. He is a half-brother to the stakes winners Jetin Excess (who earned $281,950), Jetinto Houston ($282,885), and Jet West ($354,345).

Triumphant Flight will surpass those figures if he wins the Snow Chief Stakes.

Triumphant Flight will be ridden by Santa Anita champion jockey Rafael Bejarano, a replacement for Victor Espinoza, who committed to Feisty Suances.

"He'll work in a pinch," Kruljac said of Bejarano, smiling. "We've got a good rider."

For Kruljac, the Snow Chief would be his biggest win since Leave Me Alone won the $250,000 Test Stakes at Saratoga in 2005. Leave Me Alone remains the finest horse that Kruljac has trained and she gave the trainer his first Grade 1 win in the Test.

Triumphant Flight is the second horse owned by Seltzer, 34. He grew up going to the races, and his father-in-law, Lloyd McElhinney, is a horse owner. Seltzer's family had a successful business selling food ingredients. When the business was sold, Seltzer invested some of his money at the yearling sale, buying Triumphant Flight.

"Some guys buy a Porsche," he said. "I bought a horse."