Gulfstream Park: The Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles, by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now.
#1 Wildcat Red: Lightning-quick runner stretched out after his local 7F win in the GIII Hutcheson to blaze to a wire-to-wire win over fellow hard-hitter General a Rod in the local prep, the GII Fountain of Youth, last time and no doubt rates as the one to catch again today. Sure, the track was a souped-up paved highway that day, but in reality, when isn’t it at this place, especially on these big racing days? Son of sprinter D’wildcat is already stretching his rubber band mighty thin for Garoffalo and will once again have to deal with all the pressure as the inside speed, but when they have things so speed biased that no one can pass you, it sometimes doesn’t matter how fast they go early because they’ll still be there late. With that being said, going a bit further, with the potential for a bounce off such a hard-fought win as well, you have to make him prove it one more time; taking a deep breath and trying to beat on top.
#2 Matador: Casse charge adds blinkers in an effort to coax some more early speed from a Malibu Moon runner who has been falling too far behind and leaving himself with too much to do in the lane this year. Longshot has improved his speed figures minimally in his two dirt starts this year and will have to do a lot better than his non-threatening fifth in the GII Tampa Bay Derby in his last start, as no one but the winner Ring Weekend would warrant a look in here. If you’re looking for positives, you can point to this being the third start of his form cycle and an expected heated pace, but on paper he’s just not good enough to put a scare in any of the big players here; tough to tout in any of the slots.
#3 Cairo Prince: Deserving favorite looked sensational winning his only start at 3 when he blasted his foes in the local GII Holy Bull back in January and has the look of a typical Kentucky Derby winner in that he can settle and accelerate instantly. McLaughlin charge had a bit of hang in him as a 2-year-old (see that GII Remsen second, when he made the lead only to idle late), but geesh, he sure put that to rest in the Holy Bull, when he ranged up on the turn and just left the rest in his wake. It’s also worth noting that the third-place finisher Intense Holiday returned to win Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star in his next start and will be favored there in the GII Louisiana Derby, so that only adds another feather to the cap of this son of Pioneerof The Nile. If there’s a rub, it would be that this is his first start in over two months, he doesn’t need to win to make the Derby, and they also likely don’t want to squeeze the lemon dry with Louisville on the horizon, but this is one rock solid colt any way you want to look at it; clearly the one to beat.
#4 Constitution: Lightly raced and undefeated Pletcher runner gets the acid test after two easy wins to start his career, including a two-turn wire-to-wire optional claimer here 2/22 over the talented Tonalist, on the same day ‘Red won the FOY. If you want to compare times, you’ll note this son of Tapit ran only one tick slower than ‘Red did, but be careful because he also ran seven ticks slower to the half-mile, so all in all, that final clocking wasn’t all that hot since he was able to go so slow early on. Versatile sort figures to stalk the pace today, which would put him in the right spot off the far turn, but he’s also never really had to sweat much, and who knows if he’ll be able to chase the hot splits early, make first run on ‘Prince and then hold off the rest? All at false odds too. Point being, you’re going to have to take 9-2 on a runner who would be 15-1 if “Todd A. Pletcher” wasn’t listed next to the trainer line; can’t see him breaking through against a group like this.
#5 East Hall: Decided longshot didn’t make a dent in either the FOY or Tampa Bay Derby in his last two and looks really up against it in terms of class and speed figures today. Son of Graeme Hall forges on for Kaplan and sure has danced a lot of dances, but at some point you just have to go back to the drawing board and look for a softer spot, which is anything but the case today. Stretchrunner figures to take back and try to pass a few, but anything more than a minor award would be a surprise; easy toss.
#6 General a Rod: Hard-luck loser of the FOY lost nothing in defeat when he was beaten a head by ‘Red, and once again he figures a major player from close range with this beautiful attack post. Maker charge has done nothing wrong and sire Roman Ruler won the Haskell at this distance back in the day, so this 9F trip figures well within his wheelhouse. On the face of it, he’s being discounted a bit because he rode the speed bias to success like ‘Red did, but that’s not doing this colt justice, especially if you check out his powerful gallop-out that day, not to mention the upside, as the FOY was his first start since winning the GP Derby New Year’s Day. With ‘Prince and ‘Red taking some money and Constitution getting support from the Pletcher fans, there’s a chance this dude falls a tad through the wagering cracks, which means he’s a mighty attractive play in the 7-2 area; gets the call to pull the mild surprise.
#7 Allstar: Overmatched runner enters off a decisive win in a one-turn Calder N1X in slow time, and that won’t make the big guys (or the little ones, for that matter) blink today. Son of Flower Alley goes for a sharp Vitali barn but there’s little doubt he’s bringing a water pistol to a gun fight in this salty GI; get home safely.
#8 Spot: Tricky read was a private purchase after a modest fifth-place finish in the Hutcheson and turned over to Zito, and then promptly closed from the clouds to win the local GII Swale going 7Fs in his first start for his new connections. Well-bred Pulpit gelding has never been two turns but has the running style and pedigree to suggest it will be within his scope, though this is obviously a big ask against a seasoned crew of route veterans. The early pace should suit his closing style, but we’ve already lamented how tough it is to close on this track, so if he finds himself a dozen or so lengths behind early, it’s going to be mighty tough to reel them in late; using underneath, if at all.
#6 General a Rod
#3 Cairo Prince
#1 Wildcat Red