HALLANDALE, Fla. -- The Florida Derby gained a surprise entry yesterday when Maryland trainer Barclay Tagg, who stables his first string at Gulfstream Park in the winter, entered Ambush Alley.
The 3-year-old son of Gulch is owned by Sam and Carolyn Rogers of Leesburg, Va.
"We had been toying with the idea of running the horse for some time, but then didn't really decide to put him in until about 15 minutes before they closed entries," Tagg said. "There are no real stars in the race except Storm Tower, so we decided to give it a try."
Ambush Alley broke his maiden at Laurel Race Course on Dec. 13, "his first time around two turns and first time with blinkers," Tagg said. The colt then won an allowance race at Gulfstream before finishing fifth behind Storm Tower on Feb. 5.
"My horse bled [through Lasix] that day and had a real excuse. But he still got beat only 3 1/2 lengths," Tagg said. "Then he has had bad trips in his two races since then. The best thing would be to give him an easier race and build his confidence. But from dealing with him, I don't know whether that he really needs that sort of thing. He's a cheeky little devil."
Tagg has enlisted Shane Sellers to ride Ambush Alley. "He gave my horse [Social Retiree] one heck of a ride in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and only got beat a head," Tagg said.
Florida Derby first
Shug McGaughey is running his first starter in the Florida Derby.
He saddles Ogden Mills Phipps' Living Vicariously, fourth last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and recent winner over the Gulfstream strip.
"I mapped out just the campaign I wanted for him this winter," McGaughey said. "He's coming into the race a fresh horse. The idea is to have him at his peak on the first Saturday in May."
McGaughey said he has changed his training pattern since he ran runner-up Easy Goer in the 1989 Kentucky Derby.
"Easy Goer prepped in the Swale Stakes [instead of the Florida Derby], then went to New York and ran in the Gotham and Wood Memorial," McGaughey said.
"If Living Vicariously runs well tomorrow, I'll take him to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland instead of going the New York route. I like the three weeks between the Blue Grass and the Derby, rather than just two weeks between the Wood and the Derby."
McGaughey plans to run another Phipps colt, Strolling Along, in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct next weekend.
NOTES: Dick DeStasio is saddling Silver of Silver tomorrow in the Florida Derby for the horse's trainer, Skip Shapoff. Shapoff is recovering from a triple heart bypass. . . . David Bell, the trainer of Kissin Kris, is a former longtime assistant to Roger Attfield of Alydeed fame. . . . The Swale Stakes on tomorrow's supporting card has drawn no standouts. The early favorite is Cherokee Run, second last year in the What A Pleasure Stakes at Calder. . . . Storm Tower is expected to work a sharp three furlongs this morning as his final preparation for tomorrow's race.