McLaughlin said Godolphin homebred Spa City, an impressive maiden winner at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8, would hit the Derby trail in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs. Meanwhile, Shadwell Stable’s homebred Ajaaweed -- who exits a third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) -- will be routed to the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 21.
Spa City is a strapping son of Street Sense out of Sara Louise, a multiple graded stakes-winning daughter of Malibu Moon. After earning minor awards in two starts at Gulfstream this winter, Spa City put it all together in his maiden victory when scoring by a length over the promising Todd Pletcher-trained Unrighteous. The third-place finisher was another 14 ¾-length back of Unrighteous in that 1 1/8-mile maiden heat.
Spa City has worked three times since the effort including on Saturday, when he drilled four furlongs in :48.60 at Palm Meadows Training Center.
“He’s training very well,” McLaughlin said. “We’re looking at the Tampa Bay Derby with him.”
As for Ajaaweed, he was sent off the 3-1 second choice behind Independence Hall in the Sam F. Davis based largely off his promising second-place finish to Shotski in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct on Dec. 7. Ajaaweed raced in last along the rail for six furlongs before swinging out four-wide into the stretch and mounting a mild rally to get third, some 14 lengths adrift of winner Sole Volante.
This season, Fair Groups upped the Louisiana Derby from nine furlongs to 1 3/16 miles, making it the longest domestic prep race on the Derby trail.
“We feel like the distance will help," McLaughlin said. "We’ll see how it goes.”
Ajaaweed earned his diploma in his second start at Belmont Park in September and was fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland before closing out his juvenile campaign in the Remsen. He is by Curlin out of the Daaher mare Asiya.
McLaughlin, who won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil and also that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic with champion Invasor, is seeking his first Kentucky Derby win. Last year, Shadwell’s Haikal was forced to scratch the week of the race with foot abscess. Prior to that, McLaughlin sent out eight Derby starters with his best finish being a second by Closing Argument in 2005.