Jockey's agent Mike Sellitto remembers exactly when he saw his first two Kentucky Derby winners. Remembers seeing them, remembers maneuvering, and securing the rides on Funny Cide and Big Brown.
Representing Jose Santos, Sellitto had seen Funny Cide on an Ocala farm in January, he rediscovered him at Barclay Tagg's barn at Saratoga in August, planted the seed and when Edgar Prado couldn't work him one morning, Tagg called Sellitto, the Derby photo is hanging on the wall. Representing Kent Desormeaux, Sellitto saw Big Brown rip through a breeze on the grass at Saratoga, was committed to a horse for Bill Mott when Big Brown won his debut, but made sure he was first call thereafter, that photo is on the wall, too.
Sellitto, who now represents Junior Alvarado, is hoping and thinking he found his third Derby winner last summer at Saratoga.
Like most mornings, Sellitto and Alvarado spun through the bucolic Greentree estate - looking, assessing, trolling, throwing breadcrumbs and hoping for a nibble.
"We always drive around Greentree," Sellitto said, "looking for nice-looking 2-year-olds, 'Who's that? Who's that? Who's that?' "
Sellitto asked Artie Magnuson, longtime assistant to Kiaran McLaughlin, about the 2-year-olds - blue-blooded runners for Godolphin, Shadwell and other high-octane owners.
Magnuson told Sellitto about an unraced son of Tapit who looked the part, worked the part. Magnuson pointed at the gray colt, "Go tell Kiaran I told you about this horse. I think you'll like this one. Tell Kiaran to give you the chance on the gray horse, the good one.' "
"We are good friends with Artie," Alvarado said. "I knew he had Frosted, but he wasn't talking about Frosted."
Sellitto didn't even get his name, well, he might have but it was more or less indecipherable, started with M, long, lots of syllables. He didn't need his name, he had seen enough.
"I loved him. First of all, I love that he's gray, I love gray horses. When I saw him, I loved him," Sellitto said. "He's not a real big horse but when you see him gallop, he's beautiful, like he's gliding. I remember like it was yesterday, I said, 'oh, ----, I love this horse.' "
Sellitto punched the pedal on in his golf cart and found McLaughlin at the clocker's stand near the Morning Line Kitchen. McLaughlin was vague, "we'll see," like every trainer when an agent starts prying about an unraced 2-year-old and besides, McLaughlin already had Irad Ortiz Jr. penciled in the spot.
By September, Mohaymen was back at Belmont Park.
"I asked Kiaran about the horse a couple of times and I know my agent asked him a couple of times, he didn't say yes," Alvarado said. "Then I was working a horse for Billy Mott at Belmont and I saw Irad working the horse, I said, 'Oh boy. That's him.' "
Shadwell Farm's Mohaymen, was due to make his debut at Belmont Park. The race didn't go, the racing office brought it back for Sept. 19. Ortiz was booked on Upstart in the Pennsylvania Derby. McLaughlin called Sellitto.
"Remember that gray horse you asked about..."
Alvarado and Mohaymen have been together ever since.
"I guess we were the first on the list when Irad went out of town," Alvarado said.
"Irad had worked him twice but he had to go out of town," Sellitto said. "Then the story was over."
That's the agent's depiction of a story. It ends at getting the ride.
Mohaymen broke his maiden in that Sept. 19 race at Belmont, volleying on the lead and winning by a half-length. He made his stakes debut Nov. 4, winning the Grade 2 Nashua at Aqueduct. Twenty-four days later, he swept to another win, taking the Grade 2 Remsen. Freshened, Mohaymen returned to trounce five foes in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. The beat continued with another facile score in last weekend's Fountain of Youth.
Alvarado and Mohaymen overcame a wide, bumping route around the first turn, slipped between horses on the backside, stalked second choice Zulu on the second turn and slammed the window shut - a slap shot with a flick of the wrist.
"We had a little trouble coming to the first turn, we got bumped and was six wide, it was a concern, but he handled it," Alvarado said. "I let him cruise, got next to Zulu, I shake his rein a little bit and, boom, he took off right away as soon as I knew he was going to win, I geared him down, just trying to save him."
Alvarado waved his whip and then patted Mohaymen on the neck strides before the wire.
"Most of the time, I wait until past the wire to pet a horse," Alvarado said. "I was a little bit nervous for this race, not nervous, but excitement, just kind of in my stomach, when they passed the wire in the 11th race, I was like, 'what the hell is this?' I can't remember getting nervous for so long, I guess there was a little pressure, so when he crossed first, I was getting the pressure out of my body."
The pressure will ratchet up for Mohaymen and Alvarado as they clash with undefeated champion Nyquist in the Florida Derby April 2.
Alvarado isn't worried.
"We have a connection, I'm sure he trusts me," Alvarado said. "I don't remember any horse who can get bumped and not get shuffled back, not get rank, it's normal for a horse to react. He doesn't react to anything. He's been on the rail, he's been between horses, he's just waiting for me, just give him a little bit of rein and he's gone. He makes my job way easy."
As for Sellitto, his job is over.
"We found him at Saratoga," Sellitto said. "Just like my other two Derby winners."
- The rest of the story from Mike Sellitto:
"I went to Tony Everard's farm, they pointed Funny Cide out, they wanted $25,000 in January. I went back, he was $50,000 in February. In March, the price was $75,000. I never thought anything about him again, that was it. I'm in Saratoga, at 5:30, at the coffee stand, Tony Everard's wife, Elizabeth, was standing there getting a coffee. I said, 'What ever happened to that horse?' She said, 'Oh man, that's one of the best 2-year-olds we've ever had.' I said, 'Where is he?' She said he's in Barclay Tagg's barn.' I got Santos and said we got to go over here right away, we got to check this horse out. We went to Barclay and asked if we could breeze him, it was Monday morning. He said I've got (Edgar) Prado breezing him tomorrow morning. He called me back about an hour later and said Prado couldn't breeze him so we breezed him. Santos got off him after that breeze and said, 'Don't ever get off this horse. Whatever you do.' "
"Big Brown was breezing in Saratoga, one morning on the turf, he breezed in like :33. The guy who owned him, Paul Pompa, I know him well. I said, 'you know I want to ride this horse.' The first time he entered him, I was supposed to ride him and (Bill) Mott entered a 2-year-old and Mott told me, 'you better ride my horse.' Big Brown got excluded and Mott got in, Prussian, he won by 10 lengths. They go to re-enter him a week later, I told Paul I could ride his horse and Mott said I've got one better than the other one. Mott's horse got in, Big Brown got in, I wanted to put a rider out of town so I could get back on him. Big Brown won by 8 and Mott was second, then I got back on him."
- The stacked card at Gulfstream produced very predictable and formful results as Mohaymen and five other favorites won six of the eight stakes with a second choice taking another.
Faufiler was the lone outlier in the group, winning the $100,000 Sand Springs and returning $27.80. Bred by the Niarchos Family and raced by their Flaxman Holdings Ltd., the Irish-bred daughter of Galileo hadn't run since finishing eighth in Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap Nov. 21 on yielding ground at Churchill Downs. Group 3-placed in France, Faufiler also was eighth in Belmont's Grade 3 Athenia in her final start for Pascal Bary before being transferred to the U.S. to race with Graham Motion.
Cathryn Sophia was the biggest favorite to win Saturday, stretching her unbeaten mark to four with a 7-length score in the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Davona Dale as the 1/5 favorite. The Street Boss filly won the 1-mile stakes in 1:36.61. John Servis called it her most impressive race and the bad news for her competition - at least the sophomore filly set in South Florida - is he also thinks Cathryn Sophia is just "now coming into herself." The April 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks is next with the Kentucky Oaks and a possible date with champion Songbird to follow.
Catch A Glimpse showed no signs of rust and picked up where she left off last season winning the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride as the 3/5 favorite. The winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf won her 2016 debut by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:42.63, sprinting home the last 5/16ths in :28.66 (5.72 for last 1/16 and :22.94 for previous quarter).
The day's other favored stakes winners were X Y Jet, prepping for a possible start in Dubai, in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint, Heart To Heart in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf and Converge in the Grade 3 Palm Beach. Manhattan Dan kicked off the stakes action, winning the $75,000 Texas Glitter as the slight second choice over favored Noholdingback Bear in :54.97 for 5 furlongs on the grass.
- Mo d'Amour added another stakes victory to Uncle Mo's ledger with a victory in Saturday's $125,000 Busher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. An easy winner of a Laurel Park allowance-optional going 1 mile in her most recent start, Mo d'Amour handled the return to two turns and won the 1 1/16-mile Busher by 2 lengths in a mild upset. A $75,000 buy at last year's OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training, Mo d'Amour is owned by Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stable of Princess Of Sylmar fame and is trained by Todd Pletcher.
- Hunch players didn't miss the opportunity to cash Saturday at Fair Grounds when Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Oscar Nominated won the $50,960 Black Gold Stakes. The 3-year-old son of Kitten's Joy won as the 2-1 favorite the day before the Oscars were handed out during the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood.