(Gotta Go in the paddock at Churchill Downs on the day he broke his maiden / Photo by Gene McLean)

Gotta Go, winner of the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October, got a spirited work out at Palm Meadows Training Center in Southern Florida on Monday morning for trainer Ian Wilkes, and emerged out of that exercise with a target in sight.

The flashy son of Shanghai Bobby will make his next start — and his first start as a 3-year-old — in the $200,000, 7-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 3, 2018. It will be his first strides toward what may end up a trip along the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

When contacted via text on Monday afternoon, Wilkes wrote: “…the Swale is where he is going.”

On Monday morning, he breezed 5-furlongs in a nice 1:02 flat, which was the 8th best time out of 10 to go the distance. The move marked the fourth published exercise since his last race, and each seem to be getting better and better.

And, this horse has talent.

As luck would have it, I just so happened to be at Churchill Downs the day that Gotta Go, a talented 2-year-old at the time, broke his maiden last September. And, for whatever reason, I just so happened to find myself in the paddock when a full field of colts headed over to race — most of whom were embarking on their new found careers.

Actually, I was taken by Gotta Go. He was big, impressive, muscular and stout. But it was his spectacular looks and his flashy face that really caught my eye. The son of Shanghai Bobby has a beautiful white blaze that covers his left eye, and he stands out with the dash of flash. So, I took plenty of pictures of him that day.

(Gotta Go got the attention of the entire Wilkes’ crew — including former boss, Carl Nafzger last September)

And, since it was September and the annual yearling sales were going full bore at Keeneland, trainer Ian Wilkes asked his team — and former boss, Carl Nafzger — to handle the saddling duties at Churchill Downs, while he was scoping out his next group of draft choices. So, again, I thought it was fun to get some pictures of the Kentucky Derby winning trainer standing in for his good friend and protege.

But as soon as the race went off, I suddenly found out there was another reason to pay attention. Very close attention.

The colt had a flash and dash to his run that was ever bit as impressive as the blaze and the family reunion. Going just 6 furlongs that day, Gotta Go got up and went, leaving behind 11 other babies in his wake and on his way to an impressive 43/4-length victory.

In his very next start, Gotta Go got the saddle from the head man this time in the 1-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs — the same race that Wilkes’ talented colt McCraken won in 2016 on his way to a spectacular start to his race career. Once again, Gotta Go was impressive, closing from well off the pace under the patient ride of Chris Landeros to capture his first Stakes victory over a few that have turned out to be darn good ones themselves — including Lone Sailor (who ran in the LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds this weekend), Bravazo (who was spectacular in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last year before giving in to Free Drop Billy and who just won over at Oaklawn Park this week, as well), Ebben (who ran behind Dak Attack in the Ellis Park Juvenile), and others.

Suddenly, people started to realize that Ian Wilkes had another good one in his barn.

Gotta Go finished out his 2-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25. It wasn’t the kind of closing that one would want. Gotta Go finished 13th that day. The only horse that he bested was one that clipped heels in the first turn and lost the rider.

But before you dismiss this guy, you should probably watch the replay of that race — which was full of drama, mishaps, and rough going. Gotta Go may have been the most compromised of all, other than the one who lost Frankie Pennington in the first turn.

In the midst of the first turn, Gotta Go was severely bumped and bothered. Still he managed to come through that wrestling match OK, only to be pinched in tight heading into the final turn of the 11/16-mile contest and had to be checked and steadied at the 1/16-pole. It was enough to stop his day.

Now, Gotta Go will get a chance to prove that he’s gotta go along the Road to the Kentucky Derby for his owners, Lothenbach Stables.

Larry Jones’ LeComte Trio Doing Well After Stakes:

Trainer Larry Jones reported on Monday that all three of his colts that he saddled for the G3 LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Saturday have returned to normal activities and seem to be fine following the Stakes event, that was won in impressive fashion by California invader Instilled Regard.

Kowboy Karma, who was bumped early on and then ducked to the rail in what looked to be a power move before fading to fifth; Prince Lucky, who was way wide into both turns and had a rough trip throughout on his way to a 7th place finish; and Believe in Royalty, who faded after setting blistering fractions early on, are all doing well.

It is not known where or when they will return to the races, yet. When contacted on Monday, via text, Jones wrote: “All appear well.”

Bret Jones, whose family owns Airdrie Stud and bred and still owns a piece of Believe in Royalty, also responded via text on Monday. “Both (Dak Attack, who ran third in his 2018 debut in the Mucho Macho Man; and Believe in Royalty) seem to have come out fine. Hopefully better days ahead.”

Without a doubt.