A stumbling debut caught the eye of Phil Rizzo, and now he has a ticket to Florida.
After watching 2-year-old colt Scottish Halo nearly fall to the ground and still win in his August debut at Saratoga, Rizzo persuaded owner John Oxley to make a strong offer to Patrick Byrne.
Since that day, Rizzo has guided Scottish Halo to a pair of stakes wins, including yesterday's $100,000 Laurel Futurity. He failed to reveal the offer, but said he is optimistic that Scottish Halo can take him to Florida for the series of 3-year-old races that lead to the Kentucky Derby.
In winning the Futurity, won in the past by luminaries such as Secretariat, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, Scottish Halo has three wins in four lifetime starts and $144,000 in earnings. His loss was on the Belmont turf.
"The way he moved, it really caught my eye," Rizzo said. "I was looking for a 2-year-old that would improve, and I thought he could be the one. I asked Mr. Oxley to take a look, and we made an offer. Let's just say it's been a good investment."
With Tommy Turner aboard, he covered the 1 1/8 miles at Laurel in 1 minute, 49.35 seconds, defeating Un Fino Vino by three widening lengths. As has been his style, Scottish Halo came from off the pace to win.
The early lead went to Albert Says, who was making his debut for new trainer Grover Delp. It was Delp who recently replaced Richard Small as the trainer for Harry and Tom Meyerhoff. Unbeaten in two sprints, Albert Says found the extra distance too much in the Futurity.
Entering the stretch, Albert Says was easily run down by Un Fino Vino, who appeared headed for victory with jockey C. C. Lopez, but Scottish Halo quickly seized the lead and Lopez had to settle for second.
It was a busy day for Lopez, who rode in two races at Delaware Park before driving to Laurel for his second-place finish. He drove to the Meadowlands for several more mounts, providing him with a tripleheader of sorts.
"I ran out of the money with a couple of horses at Delaware, so it was worth the trip here," said Lopez, who rode Un Fino Vino for the first time. "I'm hoping I can keep this mount."
Scottish Halo and Un Fino Vino ran 1-2 in last month's $100,000 First State Stakes at Delaware Park.
"As soon as I saw another horse go with Albert Says, I took a little hold of him," Turner said. "I was holding him back a little farther than he wanted me to. He was dragging me along, and I wasn't going to contain him any longer. I think the farther he goes, the better he'll get."
The son of Jolie's Halo paid $3.80 to win as a strong favorite in the field of eight. The exacta was worth $14.80. Grundlefoot was third, five lengths behind Un Fino Vino.
The combination of Rizzo-Tucker-Oxley just missed a second stakes victory at Laurel, running second in the $100,000 Safely Kept Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Their filly, Superduper Miss, ran second behind Godmother, who finished the six furlongs in 1: 09.21. Godmother was ridden by Mario Pino.
The second-place finish was probably not a major disappointment to Oxley, who was not at Laurel yesterday to watch his two stakes runners. He was at Gulfstream, where his mare, Beautiful Pleasure, won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff.