Gulfstream Park: The GI, $1 million Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles
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#1 Fort Loudon: Ran a decent fourth in the local GIII Holy Bull in his 3yo bow but came back to earth over the track in the GII Fountain of Youth, when he was beaten a good chunk by today’s favorite Union Rags. Looked good sweeping the Florida Stallion series at Calder but has not answered the bell against open company and this is his toughest test to date; needs softer to threaten.
#2 News Pending: Finished a fine second to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth at big odds after doing his best work on turf, so maybe he’s turned the corner and is ready to burst onto the scene for Romans, who did great work with Shackleford in last year’s Triple Crown. The issue is what to make of his last, as it was a career best run, and regression could be in the cards today, though on the other hand, we know these 3yo’s can jump up and improve open lengths overnight. The price will be right if you believe and he figures to be close to a modest pace, but the gut says he blinks when the real running begins; playing underneath, if at all.
#3 Take Charge Indy: Beautifully bred son of A.P. Indy has the bloodlines to be a star, as his sire is well known and mom Take Charge Lady was a monster in her own regard, and he’s shown a lot of talent in his brief career. Scratched after a wide draw in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby to await this spot, so you know Byrne thinks a lot of this colt,and he was a fine second to fellow rival El Padrino in a local optional claimer in his lone start at three. Finished within shouting distance of Union Rags in the BC Juvenile, and it appears he’s come back a bigger and stronger 3yo, so there are some pluses in his corner. Figures to set up shop on or near what figures to be a moderate pace, and it’s worth noting that he desperately needs graded stakes earnings, so you can surmise he’s cranked to run the race of his life; price players will be all over this dude.
#4 Neck ‘n Neck: Exits a decent but non-threatening fourth in the Fountain of Youth, and that’s not going to scare any of the big guns that he faces in here, so he’ll have to step up to duplicate that finish. Added blinkers last time and horses have been known to jump up in their second start with the hood on, but he’s got open lengths to improve to crack the top three today; tough to endorse for anything but the bottom rung of the vertical exotics.
#5 Z Camelot: Son of Smart Strike is still a maiden after four starts and his lone run on the main track was abysmal, so he’s the longest of longshots today; not even JFK fans can play this one.
#6 Union Rags: Hotshot 2yo set the world abuzz in his 3yo bow when winning the Fountain of Youth in a canter while never being asked at any time from Leparoux. On the face of it, the effort was monstrous, but let’s play devil’s advocate and dig a bit deeper. First, the likely favorite Algorithms was scratched a few days before the race due to injury, and second, his main competition, the undefeated Discreet Dancer, proved he wanted nothing to do with a two-turn route and gave it up badly on the far turn after setting pedestrian fractions. So yeah, he was awesome, but didn’t he have to win like that when no one else did any running and the maiden turf winner News Pending ran second? Plus, how much could he have gotten out of the race when he hardly broke a sweat in his first start since an unlucky second in the BC Juvenile last November? But back to the plus side, it’s always a good sign when a salty 2yo comes back at 3 and runs as well, if not better than ever, so there’s no doubt that the path to the winner’s circle goes through this guy. Still, the waters get deeper today and the gut says he still might be a short horse, especially when he’s got plenty of earnings and the Kentucky Derby is the main goal; trying to beat at short odds.
#7 Bartolome: Lightly raced runner owns just a maiden win from four starts and that came over a sloppy Calder strip, so to say he’s stepping up today would be the understatement of the new year. As a son of Tapit, he’s bred to relish this trip (his sire won the 1 1/8-miles Wood Memorial as a 3yo), but up to this point, he has shown nothing to suggest that this rise in class is within his scope; longshot.
#8 El Padrino: Accomplished juvenile kicked off his 3yo campaign with an eye-opening win over Take Charge Indy in the aforementioned optional claimer and then headed to Fair Grounds to annex the GII Risen Star. His local win was over a good and sealed track, which he showed he relished as a juvenile, but he answered all questions in the Risen Star when he won on fast dirt over a real comer in Mark Valeski. Gets the true acid test with ‘Rags entered, but on paper he’s a faster horse with more furlongs under him, and he also has the benefit of an outside draw, which should allow Castellano to gauge what the big horse does and act accordingly. Son of Pulpit has answered every question Pletcher has asked of him and should relish the added ground over a track he’s shown he can handle; emerges as the favorite on the first Saturday in May with a win today.
#9 Reveron: Underrated sort won the local Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day and then was a modest third in the GIII Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in his last start. The winner of the Davis was nowhere in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby, but the runner-up came back to win, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the quality of that race. Blinkers come off today, but he drew terribly and will risk a wide trip into the first turn, which isn’t really a good spot to be when you’ve got two monsters to your inside who are already better than you to begin with; minor award most likely.
#8 El Padrino
#6 Union Rags
#3 Take Charge Indy