For Eddie and Laurie Plesa, this year's Kentucky Derby could become a family affair. Eddie Plesa, Jr. trains contender Itsmyluckyday for wife Laurie and partner Trilogy Stable.
It wasn't until she was standing in the Gulfstream winner's circle after the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 26 that Laurie realized the couple may have a Derby contender on their hands.
“I'm so used to rooting for [Eddie] as a trainer, it didn't dawn on me when we won the Holy Bull until we were standing in the winner's circle,” said Laurie. “I forgot we owned part of this horse.”
Itsmyluckyday is from one of the two crops sired by 2006 Derby runner Lawyer Ron before his untimely death in 2009. Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, Itsmyluckyday was sold as a yearling at Keeneland September for $47,000, then reappeared as a $110,000 pinhook in the OBS March 2-year-old sale.
“Now if I told you I knew he was a Derby horse [then], would you believe me?” Eddie chuckled. “He was in a budget that we had set for ourselves. I liked that he was by Lawyer Ron; I liked the people who were selling him (Eisaman Equine). We just happened to get lucky and ended up with him.”
As the colt blossomed from a juvenile to a Derby contender, Plesa said he was always an affectionate horse, a quick learner with a great mind, and even better, he has made the journey sound.
After breaking his maiden at Monmouth in his second try, Itsmyluckyday went on to win the Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash Stakes and Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder Race Course. Although the colt ran in short-distance races early in his career, Plesa always suspected Itsmyluckyday might excel over longer distances. After a couple of unlucky five-wide trips in the G3 Delta Downs Jackpot and Dania Beach, Itsmyluckyday scored a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day.
The Florida Derby will likely be the colt's next start. After that, Eddie said, he would rather not run his star trainee again before the first Saturday in May—even though that means taking a risk that he won't qualify under the new Kentucky Derby points system.
“My first concern is the horse. Needless to say I'd love to run in the Kentucky Derby, but it's not a deal breaker,” he said. “If I had to miss the Derby and run in the Preakness because of the points, that would be a distinct possibility.”
Laurie said she's trying not to get her hopes up. Although Itsmyluckyday sits in fifth place on the Derby leader board with 10 points, Laurie said it's too early to feel confident.
“I just can't look past today, because if I do I'm going to need a paper bag. I'll just be hyperventilating. I can't think to the Florida Derby yet,” said Laurie. “Having been in this life for such a long time I know at any time, everything can go south, so I try to just take one day at a time.”
Despite being married to a part-owner of Itsmyluckyday, Eddie said the relationship “really doesn't come into play” often, since Laurie handles the office work and doesn't spend much time in the barn, but “it is a nice bonus.”
The Kentucky Derby has been a family affair for the Plesas in other years, too—daughter Kelsey led Pants On Fire to the Derby paddock for trainer Kelly Breen in 2011.
“For them just to be able to go, I know it would mean a lot to them, but especially for me to see how hard my dad works, how much he's given his life to the sport; I feel like it would be such a rewarding moment for him to have. And for my mom, too,” said Kelsey.
The family connection to the race is even stronger for Laurie. Her brother, John Servis, trained 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones.
The prospect of having “another Smarty party” with one of their own horses is particularly meaningful to the Plesas, both of whom are the children of jockeys. Laurie said that though their fathers rode against each other, she and Eddie, married 33 years, didn't meet until she became a racing secretary.
In a typical year, the couple's Derby plans consist of making dinner reservations a few hours later than usual so they can catch the race on television. Eddie watches the broadcast for the race, and Laurie watches for the human interest element and post-race interviews.
“It has never been a primary goal of mine,” said Eddie, whose trainee Three Ring ran last in the Derby in 1999. “It's one of those things that if I've got the horse to take me there, it's unbelievable. Has it been a goal of mine? No. But it's something that of all the racing that anyone could win that I'm aware of, it's the one that everyone wants to win.”
“I can't even tell you [what it would mean to run],” said Laurie. “It would be so rewarding for [Eddie] because he's second generation. He started riding horses when he was five years old. He has done this his entire life, literally, and it would be extremely rewarding for me to have that for him. And on the other side of that, to have my dad and mom still be around, having gone through this with my brother, it would just be amazing.”
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