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Itsmyluckyday and Merit Man gain New Year's stakes

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Hallandale Beach, FL (Sportsbooks) - Itsmyluckyday and Merit Man each won New Year's Day stakes at Gulfstream Park as the road to the Kentucky Derby began.

Itsmyluckyday, ridden by Paco Lopez, was the 3-1 third pick in the six-horse $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby. The 17-10 favorite was Star Contender and Sr. Quisqueyano the 5-2 second choice.

Trained by Ed Plesa Jr., Itsmyluckyday was one of the early leaders in the mile stakes on the main track. The colt, owned by Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, was pressing the pace being set by Undrafted.

On the final turn the top three horses were Undrafted, Itsmyluckyday and Sr. Quisqueyano. Coming off the turn and into the stretch, Itsmyluckyday had the lead with Sr. Quisqueyano in second and Undrafted dropping back to third.

Down the stretch, Itsmyluckyday drew clear of Sr, Quisqueyano and went on to post a 6 3/4-length victory. Sr. Quisqueyano was 5 1/2-lengths ahead of Undrafted who was followed by Joshua's Comprise, Almost English and Star Contender. Purple Egg and Uptown Anthem were early scratches.

The time for the second Gulfstream Park Derby was 1:34.39 on a fast track.

"This horse has been training great. Paco thinks this horse is better on the turf and still thinks he's better on the turf," Plesa noted. "I have a problem with that. I know how good he's been training. He loves the dirt."

Itsmyluckyday picked up $60,000 as he registered his third stakes win. In eight career starts he has four wins for $185,600. His previous stakes victories came at Calder in the Fasig-Tipton Dash and Foolish Pleasure Stakes.

"I don't get Derby Fever until at least April," said Plesa. "We'll evaluate what our options are. You've got the next race here ($400,000 Holy Bull on Jan. 26) and you've got another one at Tampa ($250,000 Sam Davis on Feb. 2). The main thing is: he's had a full schedule. Let's see how he comes out of this race and we'll go from there."

Itsmyluckyday returned $8.20, $3.60 and $2.60. Sr. Quisqueyano paid $3.60 and $2.60, and Undrafted paid $3.20 to show.

The six-furlong $140,000 Spectacular Bid attracted six newly turned 3-year- olds. Merit Man and Little Distorted were co-favorites at 6-5.

Merit Man, second in November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, broke sharply under jockey Joel Rosario. The colt dueled with Rockyshomerun up the backstretch and took a short lead at the top of the stretch.

Trained by Robert Hess Jr., Merit Man was able to hold off City of Weston down the stretch and hit the wire three-quarters of a length in front. Finishing third was Little Distorted followed by Rockyshomerun, Cat Five Hurricane and Brave Dave.

Merit Man covered the six-furlongs in 1:11.39.

"That was a lot of fun. He broke so sharp he (Rosario) really had to go on with him," the winning trainer said. "We love Santa Anita, but for him the series of races for 3-year-olds is better here. We'll look to run him again in about a month. The Hutcheson (on Feb. 2) looks like the logical spot. Everything about him says sprinting and that's what we'll concentrate on for now."

Tuesday's win was worth $100,000 and brings the colt's earnings to $292,000. Merit Man was defeated by a nose in the Juvenile Sprint by Hightail on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

"He ran a great race. I think he got to loafing a little bit out there on the lead," said Hess about the Breeders' Cup.

Co-owned by his trainer, Merit Man won the Tim Conway Stakes at San Anita on Oct. 6 after breaking his maiden as a 20-1 longshot at Del Mar.

Merit Man paid $4.40, $3.00 and $2.10. City of Weston returned $14.20 and $3.00, and Little Distorted paid $2.20 to show.

January 1, 2013, at 06:19 PM ET
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