If undefeated Purple Egg fails to run well in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on Saturday, it won’t be because of an injury or a lack of fitness, says trainer Jane Cibelli. Scratched from the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1 and the Pasco Stakes on January 12, Purple Egg will be making his first start in more than three months. Maybe it’s partly his name, his undefeated record and style of victory, or his back story, but this horse has a following, including me. If you are considering betting on Purple Egg, you have two publicized (semi-mysterious) sickness excuses and a month-long gap in his workout pattern on your mind. I spoke with Cibelli on Wednesday to get the lowdown. Here were my findings, her words in quotes: “There was no injury. He was going to go to the Gulfstream Park Derby and was on target for that. About two days before that race he came up with a minor temperature, around 102, and was scratched. I then made the mistake of trying to push him into the Pasco. I should have taken a step back. It was a mistake on my part. I pushed on him too hard, and he got sick again. I had to back off of him” How has he trained since then?
“Beginning February 3, he’s worked every seven days, hasn’t missed a beat. His last work on February 24 actually was a ¾ mile work in 1:13 and change, but (the clockers) only got us 5/8. He worked past the wire. Instead of working him again before the Tampa Bay Derby, I let him two-minute lick a mile on Sunday and pick it up the last quarter. He came home in 25, and he did it very well. He was pulling the kid out of the saddle.
“He is an improving horse. He’ll have to improve considerably with these horses, but I believe he can. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and he’s coming into the race perfect. He’s certainly a stakes horse. The question is if he is a minor stakes horse or a graded stakes horse. He deserves this chance. There’s no excuses there at all. He’s 100% fit ready to go and healthy.”
Do you think he’ll like two turns?
“I’ve always thought so, but you never know until they do it. He is the kind of horse you can put him where you want him. He’ll do whatever you want him to do, and we have trained him that way — behind other horses, letting dirt him in the face, and then asking him to go on.”
How well does rider Elvis Trujillo know him?
“Well, (laughing) Elvis was on him twice. He was on him back in July at Monmouth for what was supposed to be his debut. He made it out to the track and dumped Elvis and got loose and had to be scratched. Then we tried again and he dropped Elvis before the gate. He attacked the pony viciously, knocked the pony girl off the pony and tried to stomp on her. That’s why we decided to geld him. Elvis has been in my ear to ride him back if he ever got the chance.
“Gelding him was the right decision. He’s still not an easy horse to be around. But he was vicious before, mean. He had one thing on his mind, and it wasn’t running.”
Purple Egg (by Lion Heart) is out of the Prized mare Luminous Prize, who won twice going 1 1/8 miles on turf and was stakes placed going 1 1/2 miles at Hollywood Park.
I’ve thought all long Purple Egg could get two turns based on his energy distribution and emotional conformation. I really liked his win in the Inaugural Stakes.
Rather than distance, I think Purple Egg’s biggest challenge on Saturday will be speed, namely the speed of undefeated Verrazano, who should be heavily favored.
If Verrazano transfers his one-turn form at Gulfstream to two turns at Tampa, and avoids bouncing off his brilliant NW1X win at Gulfstream on Feb. 2, the rest are running for a distant second.
The other horse I like in this field in terms of the road to the Kentucky Derby is Dynamic Sky, who has a nice distance pedigree, a good two-year-old foundation, and room to improve if he can iron out some greenness issues.