Shortly after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf concluded at Santa Anita Park last November, a couple of points became abundantly clear to trainer Jeremy Noseda.
After watching his trainee Awesome Act get beat by just 11/4 lengths in the 1-mile race, Noseda was certain the potential he first spotted when he picked the colt out at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale was no aberration.
Noseda was also confident his colt wouldn't fully showcase that talent unless he had a drastic change in scenery.
"I always had a great belief in the horse when he started working (in England) and I was surprised the level of his performances on the turf and synthetic were not better," Noseda said. "I was thinking to myself, 'This horse isn't doing it on the turf. Clearly he wants a chance on the dirt.'"
On March 6, Noseda's instinct was confirmed.
In his first try over a dirt surface and only his second start in the United States, Awesome Act notched a 11/4-length win in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, putting himself in the Kentucky Derby picture.
This Saturday, the son of Awesome Again will try and solidify his Derby status when he faces five others, including Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Eskendereya, in the Grade I, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Though any graded stakes victory is cause for celebration, Awesome Act's Gotham victory was the culmination of a months-long leap of faith from his connections.
After making his first five career starts in England and finishing off the board just once, Awesome Act shipped to the states and ran fourth in the the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf despite having some obvious trouble negotiating the turns.
Following that outing, Noseda sat down with owners Vinery Stables and Susan Roy and informed them of his plans.
"Honestly when we shipped him over the for the Breeders' Cup, it was Jeremy's opinion then that he thought the horse would run all day on dirt and was made for the classics," said Tom Ludt, president of Vinery. "We actually circled the Gotham as our goal and... he just demolished that group that day.
"He did run bigger than I expected in that race but it validated what we thought of him. We're just thrilled."
The quality of the horses Awesome Act defeated in the Gotham may not have been top notch, but his late-running victory in the 11⁄16-mile race was all the more impressive considering he shipped back in from England just three days before and was making his first start since the Breeders' Cup.
Considering how well he handled that ordeal, Noseda briefly considered sending the colt back to his England and prepping him for the Wood Memorial there.
Ultimately, though, the veteran trainer decided the best way to get Awesome Act ready for America's premier classic was to keep him in New York with his American counterparts.
"We're training him like an American horse, which I'm going to be very honest with you, I don't feel quite as comfortable with that as I do training here back at Newmarket," Noseda said. "But that's what we've got to do if we're going to arrive in Kentucky. It's only a subtle difference but it seems to be suiting him."
One point of concern for Awesome Act's connections is the possibility for a "bounce" after such a big effort in his first start off a layoff.
Noseda said he doesn't necessarily have to see Awesome Act win this weekend in order to go to Louisville, just as long as he continues to show the kind of ability his trainer knows he is capable of.
"There is a possibility to bounce on Saturday and, you know, I'm prepared for that," Noseda said. "I hope he doesn't regress too much off his last performance. But as long as he runs well in the Wood, the big day lies ahead on the first Saturday in May."
When: 5:12 p.m., Saturday
Where: Aqueduct For: 3-year-olds
Distance: 11⁄8 miles Grade: I
Purse: $750,000 TV: NBC-18
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1 Most Happy Fella Napravnik 15-1
2 Awesome Act Leparoux 9-2
3 Eskendereya Velazquez 4-5
4 Schoolyard Dreams Dominguez 5-1
5 Jackson Bend Borel 4-1
6 Carnivore Shepherd 20-1