As several of his fellow 3-year-olds prepare for Saturday’s Ohio Derby, Collaborate chills in his Gulfstream Park barn, basking in the glow of some long-awaited laurels.

Collaborate-Back in form
Last Sunday, Collaborate returned to the form that brought him this 12 /12-length maiden win in February. He won a Gulfstream Park allowance by 5 1/4 lengths. (Image: Coglianese Photo)

Collaborate will likely see some of his sophomore rivals down the line. If he runs like he did in Sunday’s 5 ½-length blitzing of an allowance optional claiming field at the Florida track, their connections may think otherwise.

“I have a lot of belief in this horse. I know it hasn’t shown yet, but hopefully, we’re on the right path,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. told Gulfstream Park about the Into Mischief progeny. “I still think he’s the best horse I’ve trained, but I know he hasn’t proved it yet.”

Collaborate has a lot to prove, as a $600,000 colt typically does. Three Chimney Farms and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds met that price tag buying Collaborate at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling Sale. The pace-setting colt finished fifth in his debut at Gulfstream, which Joseph said on a National Thoroughbred Racing Association call was a blessing in disguise.

“Because he got a lot of education from that,” Joseph said then.

Collaborate rode big victory into a Grade 1 lesson

Collaborate parlayed that education into a 12 ½-length destruction of a maiden special weight field. That late-February romp convinced Collaborate’s connections that he was ready for bigger game. That bigger game? The Florida Derby.

It also convinced value-hungry Kentucky Derby bettors that here’s a possible Derby futures dark-horse. In early March, Collaborate was 30/1 at Circa Sports and 35/1 at William Hill Nevada. He opened at 29/1 and closed at 36/1 in the final Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool, which ended Florida Derby weekend.

That Florida Derby emptied much of Collaborate’s Derby bandwagon. He collided with Spielberg coming out of the gate, got within a length at the half-mile mark – and got no closer. Hung out wide, Collaborate finished a distant and non-threatening fifth: 14 ¼ lengths behind Known Agenda and seven behind fourth-place Nova Rags.

Throat operation closed the Derby trail

Afterward, Collaborate hit the operating table for a minor throat operation that opened his air passage. Joseph brought him back slowly, watching him clock strong workouts when he returned in late April. The May 2 five-furlong work was the fastest of six at that distance that day. In the other four, Collaborate clocked the second-fastest time at that distance that day.

Not wanting to put his star colt in a lung-busting route race, Joseph entered Collaborate in the 6 ½-furlong Black-Type Roar Stakes. Here was a case of the normally savvy Joseph outthinking the room, because Collaborate didn’t roar in the Roar. He started slow, needed plenty of coaxing from jockey Edwin Gonzalez and never factored, finishing third as the 2/5 favorite.

“He’s bred to run all day. The trip last time at 6 ½ (furlongs) was a bad decision on my part,” Joseph said. “The reason we cut him back is we thought his air got a little hindrance. I think the procedure worked.”

Time to hit the stakes trail again

So did Joseph’s decision to stretch Collaborate back out to a mile for Sunday’s allowance. He ran a smart, alert race that featured a nice, stretch move by rider Edgard Zayas. With Collaborate hemmed in on the rail, Zayas split pace-setter Speargun and Caramel Chip at the top of the stretch. That opened the door for that 5 ¼-length victory.

“He sat there and Edgard was really patient,” Joseph said. “He was in so tight, but Edgard didn’t panic. It was a very professional race. The only way I could critique it is I would have liked to see him open up more. But he wasn’t breathing hard after the race.”

Joseph said Collaborate will return to stakes competition next time out. The likely destination: the Listed 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes at Saratoga July 30. Again, some of his old Derby trail rivals likely await.