Neck ‘n Neck didn’t cooperate in his first step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, finishing a never-contending fifth under jockey Jose Lezcano.
“He didn’t help the rider. He wouldn’t go between horses. When Jose asked him to go between horses, he was reluctant to do that,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “He was not focusing on what he’s supposed to be doing. You can’t make any mistakes to beat good horses.”
Lezcano had no other choice but to swing seven wide entering the home stretch. Neck 'n Neck closed five positions to come within 2 3/4 lengths of Battle Hardened.
Encouraged by Neck ‘n Neck’s workouts with blinkers, Wilkes made the decision to add them and try on top-rated 3-year-olds for size. Lezcano will have the return mount aboard Neck ‘n Neck.
“He’s a big strong colt. We need to find out if he can run with these horses. These are the best horses in the country. If he can run with them, then we know we belong,” Wilkes said. “Off that last race, we got no indication. That’s why I said, ‘Let’s go here; let’s find out where we are.’ After the race, I can talk with the owner and say, ‘OK, we need a little more time or a little more conservative route,’ or ‘we can handle these boys. Let’s keep on proceeding.’”
Although his rail position could be viewed as a positive considering the short run to the first turn in the 1 1/16-mile stakes, Wilkes would have preferred that his colt drew further outside.
“I would have liked the three or four hole. That would give you more options than the rail,” Wilkes said. “But that’s what we’ve been dealt, so we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt.”
--Edited Gulfstream Park release