Trainer Ian Wilkes hopes that Neck ‘n Neck take a step closer to the 2012 Triple Crown races in the Grade I Florida Derby. But it's now or never.
Neck ‘n Neck, a dark bay colt out of Flower Alley, is coming into Saturday’s race off a troubled fourth place finish under Jose Lezcano Feb. 26 behind Florida Derby favorite Union Rags in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, with News Pending in second and Discreet Dancer holding on for third.
“He got into trouble but was sort of the cause of it himself,” said Wilkes. “Going 1 1/16 miles here, it’s a short run into the first turn. He was anxious and then got real rank with the blinkers on for the first time. Jose spent about a quarter of a mile trying to get him back.”
Prior to the Fountain of Youth, Neck ‘n Neck finished fifth Feb. 26 in his sixth career outing, beaten 2 3/4 lengths in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. He raced over seven lengths off the pace before making up a ton of ground while running extremely wide on the turn.
“In Tampa he switched leads on the turn and went straight,” commented Wilkes. “He really needs the blinkers. You can’t make mistakes like that and expect to beat horses like Union Rags.”
Neck ‘n Neck has been training well at Palm Meadows since his start in the Fountain of Youth. Wilkes has been pleased with his weekly breezes but now needs to know if he is good enough to compete in the spring classics.
“That’s the key, to see how good he is,” Wilkes said. “I have a tremendous owner. He feels if you don’t belong, he doesn’t want to run (in the Kentucky Derby). He feels his horse needs to earn his way there.”
“Even with the mistakes he’s made in his last four races, he’s been closing in all of them,” added Wilkes. “If I can eliminate the mistakes, we can see how good he is. I know he can run all day, so the distances won’t be an issue. He’s a slow learner. He did not develop early, so it has taken him a while to learn his lessons. He would need to win or finish second to earn a shot.”
--Edited Gulfstream Park release