Gulfstream Park: The Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Soldat (9-5 ML): Enters off two powerful local wins at today’s distance, including a romp in the GII Fountain of Youth (FOY) where he answered both the class question and the one that said that he couldn’t put in a big run on dry land. Must step up to the plate again today, and as good as he’s looked locally, he’s yet to show he can rate behind horses on dirt and be just as effective, and with Flashpoint joining the fray late, it’s unlikely that this colt will be making a loose lead. Point being, once again he’s going to have to answer some questions while potentially not getting the best of it in terms of trip and pace – all at an underlaid price; major golf clap if he gets it done again but siding against it.
#2 To Honor and Serve (4-1): How deep is this renewal, you ask? Well, this hotshot 2yo, who was universally thought of as a top-3 Derby prospect this winter, is probably no better than fourth choice in here off a tepid third behind Soldat in the FOY to kick off his 3yo campaign. While there was no reason to expect him to be at his best that day, it was alarming to see him back up readily after Soldat swatted him off his hip on the far turn. And that means that you’re allowed to ask if he’s bridged the gap from a good-looking juvenile that was a multiple GII winner to a 3yo that will be able to contend with the best of his generation. He should be tighter and fitter for today’s assignment, and he better be, because this is leaps and bounds the best field he’s ever seen; mixed signals in this corner.
#3 Arch Traveler (20-1): Talented colt scored a track and distance win in pedestrian time in February after running just off the early pace for the first half-mile, so look for him to at least be involved during the early stages of his first career graded stakes try. He’s cut out to be a nice horse and does have some talent, but this seems way too much way too soon; know him early but doubt late.
#4 Bowman’s Causeway (20-1): Distant fourth behind Soldat in the FOY, but at least he does own a local 9F win back in February, so you know he’ll handle the trip. The talent seems to be there, but this is as tough a Derby prep as you’re ever going to see, and up to this point he’s simply not fast enough; longshot.
#5 Shackleford (20-1): Actually fancied his chances in the FOY, but he lost the race at the draw when he was marooned wide and subsequently did little running from there. Much like ‘Arch and ‘Bowman’s in that he seems to have the talent but is simply biting off much more than he can chew up to this point; not expecting him to make an impact.
#6 Stay Thirsty (8-1): Don’t hold your breath on this bad ML as 9-2 is much more likely, but that’s OK, too, because you’re getting an extremely talented colt that should move forward off a solid win in the GIII Gotham at Aqueduct to kick off his 3yo campaign. Blinkers go on today, off a win no less, so not really sure what that’s all about, but the equipment change should have this half-brother to Belmont runner-up Andromeda’s Hero just off the early pace and in a great spot as they hit the far turn. Pletcher and Repole can do no wrong, but while Uncle Mo is the more heralded runner in the barn, this is actually the colt that should only get better at the distance stretch out today and later this spring; gets the call to post the mild surprise in an absolutely thrilling renewal of the Florida Derby.
#7 Dialed In (2-1): So what corner are you in? The one that says that his second in his two-turn debut last month against older horses in an optional claimer was the perfect tightener for today or the one that says that he was one-paced and could have gone four miles and never passed the winner? Either way, you have to admit that when they turned for home, it looked like he would win by seven, yet in midstretch he was being scrubbed on and was losing ground to his stablemate Equestrio before rallying much too late. No doubt he’ll get a ton more pace to rally into today, and he should be allowed to settle well off the leaders and make his patented late run, but at a big underlaid price, do you really want to pay to find out just what colt you’ll get? No denying his talent or his eye-catching local win in the GIII Holy Bull, but he’s got to prove that he can run two turns with elite company before backing; taking a strong stand against for the top spot.
#8 Flashpoint (6-1): Brilliant in two sprint wins to start his career, including a 7 ¼-length romp in the local GII Hutcheson in February, and now he tries to carry his speed a route of ground against a bevy of top sophomores. His natural sprint speed, coupled with this terrible draw, probably means they will be sending him early, dropping to the rail and hoping that he lasts the entire 9-furlong trip, but with Soldat attached to his flank the entire way, it sure won’t be easy. If you’re a believer, you’ll get a tremendous price on a horse who could be an absolute freak, but logic says that this is a mighty ambitious spot to try two turns for the very first time; tossing him completely, albeit with bated breath.
#6 Stay Thirsty
#2 To Honor And Serve