Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Florida Derby: ‘Big Five’

Posted by Brian Appleton on April 2, 2011

The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 19th was hyped for weeks beforehand as the deepest Derby prep of the year. Well, the Grade 1 Florida Derby blows the Rebel field out of the water. Five graded stakes winners are set to contest the Florida Derby on Sunday and four of them are almost unanimously listed in the top ten of most Kentucky Derby contender’s lists, five if you count Flashpoint.

Fountain of Youth (gr.2) winner Soldat is listed as the deserving 9-5 favorite in the field of eight 3-year-old colts. Starting the year off with a 10 ¾ length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in the slop, Soldat next took the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream over Gourmet Dinner and To Honor and Serve on February 26th. He’s coming into the Grade 1 race off two strong 5 furlong works. On March 20th he went in 1:00.60 and then ran 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 one week later on Sunday.

Dialed In will be making just his fourth lifetime start in the Florida Derby. He started the year with a terrific win in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr.3) on January 30th in just his second career start, closing like an express train from far back to defeat Sweet Ducky and Gourmet Dinner handily. In his last start he finished second by half a length to older stablemate Equestrio in a 1 1/8 mile allowance at Gulfstream. He posted a fantastic half mile bullet on March 24th, getting the distance in :47.55. Trainer Nick Zito has been giving the Mineshaft colt long gallops to keep him fit between works and is extremely confident in his charge.

Stay Thirsty is still working his way out of Uncle Mo’s shadow even after a solid 3 ¼ length winning performance in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 5th. He will be given blinkers for his second start of the year which trainer Todd Pletcher believes will help him focus more and not become intimidated running in tight quarters. He posted a relaxed 5 furlong move in 1:01.95 on Sunday that is much slower than the 5 furlong moves he was running before his Gotham Stakes win. It appears he may not be ready to run his best effort in only his second start of the year but owner Mike Repole is confident he will only get better as the distance increases and the 1 1/8 miles of the Florida Derby will be the longest he has ever run.

To Honor and Serve led many Derby Dozen lists at the start of the year along with Uncle Mo due to his impressive pair of Grade 2 wins as a juvenile last year in the Remsen and Nashua Stakes. He produced a flat performance in his 2011 debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, finishing a distance third to Soldat and Gourmet Dinner. He enters off a solid 4 furlong work he completed in a time of :49.00. He has recorded four works since his third place finish in the Fountain of Youth, two of those works he ran as bullets. Trainer Bill Mott has stated all along that the talented Bernardini colt would have only two Kentucky Derby preps this year in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. You can bet he’s going to make this race count for his charge.

When it was announced the undefeated Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes winner Flashpoint would run in the 9 furlong Florida Derby instead of the 7 furlong Swale Stakes on the same day things became much more interesting. A confirmed speed ball, Flashpoint will break from the far outside post while the other speed in the race, Soldat, will break from post #1. The question this front running son of Pomeroy needs to answer in the Florida Derby is whether or not her can carry his speed a distance and conserve his real running past 7 furlongs . If he is able to set reasonable fractions on the front end there’s a chance he could have some say as to the final outcome. If he rates that would be one of the biggest shocks of the year, to win he’ll have to pull of a ‘run them off your feet’ performance, something akin to The Factor.

Bowman’s Causeway, Shackleford and Arch Traveler complete the field and while anyone of them seem capable of moving forward if an upset were to take place it seems highly unlikely one of the ‘big five’ won’t win. If Flashpoint runs the way he has in both his career starts he should shoot straight out to the front with Soldat right there. Soldat will either need to refrain from contesting a heated pace or rate off it to produce his best effort with classy runners like Dialed In and Stay Thirsty closing from behind. To Honor and Serve could also play a part in pace scenario. Both his Grade 2 wins have come in front running fashion but with a speedball like Flashpoint winging it up front he’ll need to be a superhorse to hold the lead gate to wire this time. If any horse is set to benefit the most from a rapid pace scenario it will be Dialed In. If he stays well back as he has all year he might end up winning for fun like he did in the Holy Bull.

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2 Responses to “The Florida Derby: ‘Big Five’”

  1. Steve M. said

    Brian,
    The Florida Derby is an enigma to me; I have no clue who will win, but I can’t wait to watch the race. Dialed In is my pick to win the Derby, but I don’t want him to win this race; just want him to make a credible showing. Curious to see if To Honor and Serve is legitimate Derby contender or not. Mott should have him primed so it’s now or never.

    • Hey Steve, always great to see you stop by and comment!
      Same here but I’m trying to take a stand through my uncertainty. Dialed In looks very strong right now as does Soldat, the pace is going to play a huge role in the outcome of this race I think. To Honor and Serve has been pointed to this race for quite some time now so I would bet Mott has him pretty sharp.

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