Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: A Kentucky Derby ‘Cinderella Story’ - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: A Kentucky Derby ‘Cinderella Story’

Team Two Phil’s: Jockey Jareth Loveberry, left, co-owner and breeder Anthony Sagan, right, and trainer Larry Rivelli, center (black jacket).

The presence of Two Phil's in this year's Kentucky Derby has all the makings of a Disney movie: he's the horse nobody wanted who makes it all the way to the pinnacle of the sport.

Anthony Sagan, breeder and a co-owner along with his father, Phil Sagan (one of the two Phils), knows just how rare an opportunity they have been granted. The colt is not only the first Thoroughbred the family bred; his dam is also the first Thoroughbred the Sagan family ever owned.

“There are people that have been breeding for 50 years, thousands of horses, and there's people spending millions and millions, and here we are with one horse,” Sagan said earlier this week on the Kentucky HBPA YouTube channel. “It just shows you that anything's possible in this game.”

Sagan grew up enjoying several aspects of the racing industry: at first, greyhound racing, and later harness racing.

“I've been going to the track since I was a kid,” he said. “My parents took me to the Palm Beach Kennel Club and I was like 11 years old. I remember going to the Greyhounds and I loved it, and then after that I started going to Maywood Park and going to the harness tracks.”

The Sagans owned a few harness racehorses, enjoying racetrack outings as a “family hobby” but not especially serious. When the Chicago-area Maywood Park shut down in 2015, a family friend suggested the Sagans try their hand at Thoroughbreds.

Former jockey Jerry La Sala, winner of over 1,200 races and whose father is the second “Phil,” Phillip La Sala, offered up the unraced 3-year-old Mia Torri for sale. At $40,000, the Sagans bought the Florida-bred filly sight unseen.

It turned out the daughter of General Quarters could run a little: she won a pair of stakes races, was twice graded stakes-placed, and earned $314,720 on the track. When Mia Torri was injured, the Sagans opted to breed her.

La Sala recommended the Sagans speak with Steve Leving, a jockey agent, bloodstock agent, and even racing official. Leving recommended a mating with Hard Spun.

Two Phil's was the outcome of that initial mating. The Sagans attempted to sell the chestnut colt twice: he did not reach his reserve when bidding stopped at $150,000 at the Keeneland September sale, and he was withdrawn from a 2-year-old in training sale after working an eighth of a mile in :10 ⅖.

“The first horse that we ever had was a horse that no one really wanted, and then this horse, same thing, nobody wanted him either,” Sagan said. “He was overlooked by all the experts in the game, and you heard every excuse about why he couldn't do this, why he couldn't do that. I mean, now we're here at the biggest stage in racing.”

The colt's much-discussed name is the result of a friendship between Phillip Sagan and Phil La Sala, both in their 80s and planning to attend Saturday's race at Churchill Downs.

“Everyone's asking about the apostrophe with Two Phil's,” Sagan said, laughing. “When my dad submitted it to The Jockey Club, I guess this is how he did it. I think it gives him a little style, a little pizzazz to his name, and it gives people something to talk about. That little apostrophe is not supposed to be there, but we're not grammar experts so we submitted it the way it is and I like the way it looks on paper.”

Two Phil's is trained by Chicago-based Larry Rivelli, who recommended his primary owner Vince Foglia (Patricia's Hope LLC) purchase a share in the colt during his early training. Foglia now owns 80 percent, with the Sagans staying in for 10 percent and the Sol Kumin partnership, Madaket Stables, picking up the other 10 percent.

Despite making his last start over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, dominating the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby, Two Phil's isn't without good dirt form. 

In fact, the colt already owns a win over the surface at Churchill Downs, last fall's G3 Street Sense Stakes, and he ran second and third, respectively, in the Fair Grounds' G3 Lecomte and G2 Risen Star. 

“If he runs his last race he's going to have a huge chance,” Rivelli said. “A lot of people think it's the Tapeta that moved him up (winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park), and it could be. If it wasn't, he's got a serious shot. It's a deep and even year this year. There's no Justify, no American Pharoah, which gives us a shot.”

The Sagans now have two additional foals out of Mia Torri, a 2-year-old Omaha Beach colt and a 2023 foal by McKinzie. 

“We took a shot with one Thoroughbred and now we're in the biggest stage in racing,” Sagan said. “It's an incredible Cinderella story that we're in this race.”

Two Phil's schooling in the paddock ahead of the 2023 Kentucky Derby
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