Big things had always been expected from Dolphus, especially since he is a half-brother to 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
The son of Lookin At Lucky did win two of his first three starts, heightening expectations, but he has been disappointing during his 3-year-old season until Sunday at Gulfstream Park. The Joe Sharp-trained colt broke through with a commanding 9 ½–length victory in the featured fourth race, a $45,000 optional claiming allowance.
A main-track-only entrant, Dolphus ($9.60) drew into the field when the race originally scheduled for 7 ½ furlongs on turf was moved to the sloppy main track for a seven-furlong dash. The Kentucky-bred colt broke from the gate directly outside No. 10 Cheyenne Bull, who veered sharply to the inside to cause considerable crowding and was subsequently declared a non-starter for not receiving a fair start. Dolphus went right to the lead under Paco Lopez and was never threatened thereafter while winning for the first time in four starts since Jan. 13.
“Today, basically, I feel he finally applied himself for the first time in a while. Obviously, the ‘10' broke in and changed the dynamic of the race. Having said that, he ran his race,” said Sharp, who viewed the simulcast of the race at Fair Grounds. “I think he liked the firm going of the sealed sloppy track. Hopefully, he can duplicate it back to back, and the light bulb has gone off.”
Since notching his second win at Fair Grounds, Dolphus came off a six-month layoff to finish fifth in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga in July and went on to finish fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Delp Memorial at Delaware Park in August. In his most recent start, he finished fourth in a mile allowance at Keeneland. Dolphus' underperformance had become somewhat of a mystery to Sharp and owner Dede McGehee.
“In the morning he's the most straightforward, focused, great workhorse. He's great to train; he's a good eater; he does everything right,” Sharp said. “After the last couple of races, the owner and I were left scratching our heads, because we know he's better than that.
“Obviously, with his pedigree, gelding him wasn't an option. So we tried the blinkers and he worked well in them. We dotted our I's and crossed our T's in the elimination process of things that could and couldn't be that were keeping him from putting out his best efforts.”
In addition to racing with blinkers for the first time in Sunday's feature, Dolphus cut back to a one-turn distance for the first time since winning his debut at 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 22, 2015 at Fair Grounds.
“Dede and I came to the decision to try cutting back in distance, like maybe he's a closing sprinter at seven-eighths,” Sharp said. “We were pointing for a race at the end of the month, but this race we entered for main-track-only and it kind of fell into our lap.”
Dolphus is likely to return in a one-turn stakes for his next start.
“The reason we sent him to Gulfstream is being able to have a variety of one-turn races. At the Fair Grounds, we were limited a little more, so that's why we decided to go to Gulfstream,” his trainer said.
For now, Sharp said he'll savor Sunday's victory by a horse he's always regarded as special.
“I've known he's the nicest horse I've had my hands on to this point, I thought,” Sharp said. “We had thought that. As a 2-year-old and 3-year-old we thought he was, but we've been kind of waiting for him to show it. I'm glad to see what made us all believers.'”
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