Brian’s Derby Preps: The Florida Derby

Before we get to Brian’s preview of the Florida Derby, a few notes:

–Don’t forget to take advantage of this week’s supplemental draft in the Road to the Roses game; you’ve got until 11:59 tonight to add three horses to your stable. You’ve also got the chance to identify horses in your stable as power horses if they’re running this week…those extra points are worth it!

–Not getting enough Derby talk? Sign up to get the Hello Race Fans! weekly Derby prep alert, and then cruise on over to Facebook to became a fan of Hello Race Fans! Yours truly is a contributor, as are many of your favorite racing writers.

–Brooklyn Backstretch will be undergoing a serious renovation this weekend, so it’s possible that the site will be down at some point between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Not so coincidentally, I’m heading down to South Florida, so we’re taking advantage of potentially light posting anyway to make the switch.

See you next week, good luck this weekend, and now over to Brian..

The centerpiece of the Gulfstream Park meet lost some star power when Eskendereya, the breathtaking winner of the Fountain of Youth over the course and distance last month, opted to pass the race and head to Aqueduct for the Grade I Wood Memorial in April. So, a short field and heavy favorite morphed into a big field with a lukewarm favorite. All told, 11 3yo’s looking to stake their claim at a Grade I prize signed on, with the winner assuredly rising up the list of major Kentucky Derby contenders. Let’s take a look.

Gulfstream Park: The Grade I, $750,000 Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles

1. Soaring Empire: His return run here last month at 7F’s was a real beauty, especially when you factor in the slow start, inactivity, and distance oriented pedigree, so right away you know he’s worth a look. Finished a solid third in the GIII Iroquois last fall immediately after breaking his maiden, so there’s some class in this corner as well. Well-bred runner finally gets a chance to stretch his legs going two turns, and this cozy rail draw gives him a big leg up on the competition. The only issue is if this is a bit too much too soon–and that’s entirely possible–but heck, that didn’t work against Odysseus at Tampa last weekend; look out.

2. Lentenor: Barbaro’s little brother is a talented animal, no doubt, but if that aforementioned legend didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, then this colt would be about 20-1 and dismissed without a second glance. So point being, you’re looking at 6-1 on a horse that’s a) never run on dirt, b) never beaten winners, c) never run in a graded stakes race, and d) wasn’t even planning on running before Eskendereya’s defection. How does that price seem now? Sure, he’s got talent, but he’s spotting a ton of experience to some runners who have already shown that they can handle this game; not my kind of play.

3. Pulsion: Really liked his chances in the Fountain of Youth, but, like a few others, he lost his race going into the first turn when things backed up in a hurry. To his credit, he did make a minor (though non-threatening) move turning for home and kept at it to pass a few runners. And don’t forget, Eskendereya ran off that day, so this guy was beaten only four lengths for the place. You really have to worry about whether the folks at GP are going to soup up the track and make it like a lightning strip, as is their custom on these big race days, but if it’s playing fair, then this stretch runner has every chance to make amends on that FOY run; far too early to give up on him.

4. Pleasant Prince: Solid fourth in the FOY, which was his graded stakes debut, so at least you know he’s in the mix should the favorites stumble. Unlike Pulsion, this colt had a clean and uneventful trip, so you do have to wonder if that’s about as good as he can deliver. Still, all things being equal, it was only his first race against the big boys, and now that he knows what it’s all about, maybe he can bridge the gap and move forward; minor award appears to be his ceiling.

5. Game On Dude: Speedy colt didn’t make his first career start until January and he comes here fresh off a 1-mile maiden win last month. So yeah, he’s talented, but that’s a serious, serious class jump. It’s not the saltiest Florida Derby we’ve ever seen, but still, it’s hard to see this colt being much more than an early pace factor; longshot.

6. First Dude: Just missed to the talented Fly Down in a local 9F allowance last month while battling hard on the pace through insane early fractions. That was his first two-turn start at 3 and the improvement was major, so it seems like he’s really grown up over the winter and developed into a runner. There are a few issues though; first, you’ve got to worry about a bounce after such a fast and taxing race, and second, he’s got a ton of speed and unless your name is Rule, it’s hard to envision this Florida Derby being won on the engine; respecting his talent but pace makes the race.

7. Rule: OK, time to man up and give him credit for that Sam Davis win because I’ll be the first to admit that I thought he was a Delta Downs lover who was a fluke. Umm, not quite folks. In his first start in nine weeks and first two-turn start away from Delta, he dueled on the lead, put away his pace rival, and drew off beautifully for a 3-length win. In his wake was Schoolyard Dreams, who just lost an impossible photo to Odysseus last weekend. It’s already been mentioned that the pace is going to be quick, but he has the benefit of drawing outside, which means JV can play things off the break and go from there. He does have plenty of graded earnings to make the Derby, so you might wonder if he’s really cranked to win it, but don’t forget, this is a GI and he doesn’t have one of those trophies on his mantle just yet. I’m all for beating favorites, but this guy is rock-solid; imposing.

8. Ice Box: After breaking from the parking lot, this colt made a wide, sweeping move turning for home in the Fountain of Youth before predictably flattening out and finishing fifth. Go back and watch: it was impressive indeed, especially when he was taken out of his stalking element and forced to close while taking the overland route. That was his graded stakes debut to boot, so we might not have seen the best of this colt. With a little better trip, there’s no reason he can’t slip into the exotics at a nice number; worth using underneath if you’re spreading.

9. Miner’s Reserve: Like Game On Dude, this speedster made his debut in January and then broke his maiden on the engine last month. He did it by a widening 5 ½ lengths going a mile, and his pedigree says that he can negotiate the added ground and then some, but geesh, talk about throwing a nice runner to the wolves. With the fast pace and his inexperience, it’s just asking way too much for a runner that wasn’t even in this race before Eskendereya passed; can’t endorse.

10. Best Actor: Chased the widely popular (but overrated) Drosselmeyer home when third in the 9F allowance here in January. He’s been freshened since, but this isn’t really the spot to ease back to the races, is it? Respect his connections but he’s a big longshot; passing.

11. Radiohead: The ML second choice sure looked good winning his main track debut when he returned to the U.S. to run off in a solid conditioned allowance at 1-mile last month. Tons of talent in this corner, but posts 11 and out in these 9F races at GP are 1-for-44 since the track was reconfigured a few years back, so taking 3-1 isn’t really offering you enough value to see if he can join Big Brown as the second 11+ winner. The good news is that he has enough tactical speed to gain a bit of position entering the first turn, but with a potential Euro-bounce on tap, a pedigree that isn’t crying out for this trip, and an underlaid price, it’s prudent to look for more value; comfortable trying to beat him.

Selections:

7. Rule
2. Soaring Empire
3. Pulsion

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