Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshot: Two Phil’s

Welcome to 2023 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the racehorses earn points toward qualifying.

The 1 ¼-mile, $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at Two Phil’s, winner of the $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 25 at Turfway Park.

Two Phil’s earned 100 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Jeff Ruby Steaks win and moved into first place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 123 points.

Racing Résumé: Two Phil’s does not sport the typical résumé many racing fans have become accustomed to seeing for a top Kentucky Derby contender – that is, three to six starts all at major racetracks for one of the big-name trainers with a well-known regular rider.

No, the new leader by qualifying points on the road to the Kentucky Derby earned his first win on the dirt at Colonial Downs (known for its turf racing) before winning a stakes race under Jareth Loveberry at Canterbury Park in Minnesota in his third start for trainer Larry Rivelli.

Loveberry and Rivelli (more on them later) are both very good horsemen and highly qualified in their respective crafts but as far as name recognition goes, they’re not exactly Irad Ortiz Jr. and Todd Pletcher or Florent Geroux and Brad Cox.

But year in and year out, the Kentucky Derby shows racing fans that good horses can come from anywhere and Two Phil’s is a very good horse with a rock-solid jockey-trainer tandem.

Since that 9 ¾-length win in the Shakopee Juvenile Stakes Sept. 27, 2022, Two Phil’s has battled with the big names at the major tracks while establishing his credentials as a legitimate Kentucky Derby win contender.

After an unplaced finish in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, Two Phil’s won the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.

The chestnut Hard Spun colt opened his 3-year-old season with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes before running third in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford, both at Fair Grounds. He then shipped to Kentucky for the $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Tapeta Footings synthetic surface at Turfway Park.

Two Phil’s dazzled in his first try on a synthetic track, rallying from off the pace and surging well clear to win by 5 ¼ lengths for his fourth win in eight starts.

“The original plan probably wasn’t to run in this spot. I was just looking for the best route to get Two Phil’s to the Kentucky Derby,” Rivelli said after the Jeff Ruby. “With this race on the calendar, I thought it was the perfect timing and perfect spot. We’re on our way to the Derby.”

Two Phil’s will train at Rivelli’s base at Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois and ship to Churchill Downs about three weeks before the first jewel of the Triple Crown to have his final workout at the Louisville track.

Speed Figures: Two Phil’s Equibase Speed Figure for the Jeff Ruby was a new career-best 97, two points better than he earned in the Lecomte. His line since the Street Sense win – 93-95-92-97 – is fairly steady but he would need to improve to be a serious win player on Kentucky Derby day. Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figures rated the Jeff Ruby win significantly higher as Two Phil’s 101 Beyer places him right there with the top 3-year-olds and represented a 13-point jump from his previous best of 88 earned in the Lecomte. Of course, the big improvement came with a surface switch from dirt to a synthetic main track.

Running Style: Two Phil’s probably profiles as a stalker, especially as it pertains to the Kentucky Derby, but he earned his maiden win leading from start to finish while drilling the opening quarter-mile in :21.80, so he has some tactical speed. My guess is he would ideally be positioned about three to six lengths off the pace in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, but post position, traffic, etc. can always alter best-laid plans in a hurry on the first Saturday in May in front of 150,000 fans.

Connections: Two Phil’s is owned by the partnership of Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC and breeder Phillip Sagan. Patricia’s Hope raced graded stakes winners Bizzee Channel and Midnight Cello and also raced in partnership graded stakes winners Jean Elizabeth, One Timer, and Cocked and Loaded. Two Phil’s Street Sense victory was the first win in a graded stakes for Sagan.

Larry Rivelli has won more than 1,750 races since training out his trainer’s license in 1999, with 14 graded stakes wins from his 99 stakes wins through March 26. Based in the Midwest, Chicago native Rivelli was a top trainer at now-defunct Arlington International, leading the trainer standings by wins every year from 2014 to 2021. Both his grandfather Pete DiVito and uncle Jimmy DiVito trained in Illinois so Rivelli grew up with the sport. Rivelli has never had a Kentucky Derby starter and is seeking his first career Grade 1 win.

Like Rivelli, Jareth Loveberry also has amassed more than 1,750 career wins and led the standings at Arlington as the top rider by wins in 2020 and 2021. Loveberry won 92 career races for Rivelli at Arlington. The Jeff Ruby Steaks was Loveberry’s fourth career graded stakes win from 87 career stakes victories through March 26. His first graded stakes win came for Rivelli when he guided the aforementioned Bizzee Channel to victory in the 2017 Arlington Stakes. Loveberry, a Michigan native, also has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby and worked especially hard to get healthy in time to ride Two Phil’s in the Jeff Ruby.

“Three weeks ago, I suffered a hairline fracture in my left fibula but I’m pretty high on life right now and don’t feel that too much,” Loveberry said after the Jeff Ruby win.

Pedigree Notes: Two Phil’s is from the 12th crop of Grade 1 winner Hard Spun, a tough-as-nails son of Danzig who happened to be in the same crop as champions Street Sense and Curlin. Hard Spun ran second to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and finished third behind Curlin in the Preakness Stakes. Later in the year, he finished second to Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Hard Spun loved the synthetic main track at Turfway, winning the Lane’s End Stakes and Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes there in 2007.

Hard Spun posted seven wins and three seconds in 13 career starts and has developed into a terrific sire with 111 stakes winners and 49 graded stakes winners, including 2012 champion 3-year-old filly Questing, 2019 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run, and 2021 Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West. Hard Spun is versatile as a sire with standouts sprinting and in longer-distance races as well as on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.

Two Phil’s was produced by the General Quarters mare Mia Torri, a multiple stakes winner sprinting who finished second in a pair of Grade 3 races.

Derby Potential: There are a couple of key questions as it pertains to Two Phil’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby.

First, can he run as well on dirt as he did on the synthetic surface at Turfway in the Jeff Ruby Stakes? He has shown he can win on a sloppy track at Churchill, so a bit of rain would probably be welcomed, but there is no denying his best race to date was on the Tapeta surface.

Second, how will he handle stretching out to 1 ¼ miles? Sure, this is a question for virtually every 3-year-old on Kentucky Derby day as it is their first time for all trying that classic distance, but Two Phil’s dam (mother) was a sprinter and there might be a limit on how far this Hard Spun colt wants to race.

Two Phil’s took a huge step forward in the Jeff Ruby Steaks and punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with a career-best runaway win. He’s gotten very good at the right time, he owns a stakes win on the track at Churchill, and with eight races boasts a very solid foundation. I expect him to run very well May 6.

“Two Phil’s has seemed to get better each week this winter at Fair Grounds. I think he’s getting better with each start,” Loveberry said. “He ran well in the Lecomte but I thought he was even better in the Risen Star. It’s just very exciting to be partnered with a horse like this and a team that’s supported me.”