It took Barclay Tagg more than 30 years to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby. When the trainer finally made it, he unexpectedly won with a New York-bred gelding named Funny Cide.
Tagg has been back to Churchill Downs twice since that breakthrough victory in 2003. Two years ago, Showing Up finished sixth, Nobiz Like Shobiz ran 10th last year.
About six weeks from now, the 70-year-old former steeplechase rider plans another return trip -- not with one horse, but instead as many as three in Big Truck, Elysium Fields and Tale of Ekati.
"It's exciting to be where we are now, but it's very tough," Tagg said by telephone from south Florida. "You have to keep a level head, and if you don't think a horse belongs, you shouldn't put him in it. We hope to show up with a few if they continue doing well.
"But you just don't know what's going to happen."
Usually cautious, Tagg can't help but be optimistic these days.
Big Truck won the Tampa Bay Derby in a huge upset over 1-20 favorite War Pass. The colt might have one more prep race (the Holy Bull Stakes on April 12) before heading to Louisville.
Elysium Fields should be among the favorites for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. The Fountain of Youth runner-up worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.00 on Thursday, and Tagg said the colt is "doing very well."
And Tale of Ekati, a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby, remains on track for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5.
Five years ago, Tagg seemed almost reluctant to bring Funny Cide to the Derby, thinking that maybe the horse wasn't up to handling all the hoopla that surrounds the buildup to America's greatest race.
He's got a different take now.
"If you hear someone say they aren't excited about having a horse in the Derby, I'll show you a liar," he said.
In a Derby prep over the weekend, Adriano won the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park but is a long shot to end up in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Still unable to explain War Pass' first loss after five front-running wins, trainer Nick Zito brought his colt back to the track Wednesday for a 1-mile gallop at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, Fla.
He and owner Robert LaPenta both said War Pass did not have a fever in the days leading up to the race, even though LaPenta said immediately after the race that could have been the reason for the loss.
In addition to Elysium Fields, other Florida Derby probables include Big Brown, Fierce Wind and Smooth Air. Majestic Warrior, co-owned by Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, is a possibility.
Also, Rebel Stakes winner Sierra Sunset is off the Derby trail with a left front ankle injury.