by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Gulfstream Park: The GI, $1 million Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
#1 Sawyers Mickey (30-1): Ridiculous longshot enters as a maiden after seven starts and likely wouldn’t even be under 6-1 if he were entered with his own kind earlier on the card, so it’s obvious that he has no hope here. If you’re at least trying to see if something sticks to the wall, then you can point to the fact his new trainer Walder has been known to improve their form, and he did draw well, and as a son of Flatter he’s bred for this trip, but that only means you should get 140-1 instead of 150-1; get home safely.
#2 Fellowship (15-1): Before you dismiss this deep closer, go back and watch February’s local prep, the GII Fountain of Youth, and check this son of Awesome of Course out as they entered the far turn, when he was rolling with a full head of steam that looked like it would propel him close to eventual winner and today’s favorite Mohaymen. And sure, we all know he flattened out and finished some 6 1/4 lengths back in third, but this colt can run, and it’s nice to see that Gold isn’t afraid of again trying the big horse and an invading champion too. The issue is the race track, as it figures to be a paved highway Saturday and that won’t help his closing style, so while he’s probably not a threat to win this, don’t forget his name five weeks from now when he gets to go 10 furlongs and close down that long Churchill Downs stretch; completes a chalky trifecta.
#3 Majesto (20-1): Talented sort hinted at a lot of promise in his first few starts and then finally got back on the beam when he scored an overdue maiden win over the track in his last start in February, and if nothing else, he’s tactical, drew well and has run twice going today’s 9 furlongs. Delgado-trained son of Tiznow is sure bred for this and to get better with age, too, so there is some upside here, but obviously this would be a seismic jump in class in any Florida Derby, much less one that brings us the undefeated reigning 2-year-old champion, who isn’t even going to be favored because of a more highly-thought-of rival. Respect this underrated barn, and the fact that they are willing to see what they have here, but this is too much too soon for a runner that has the look of a second-half 3-year-old to watch; remember his name for down the road.
#4 Nyquist (6-5): Aforementioned 2yo champion is traveling across the country for a big $1 million bonus, since he sold at the Fasig-Tipton March sale last winter, and anyone who saw his comeback in Santa Anita’s 7-furlong GII San Vincente in February knows that this is a bigger, stronger version of the colt who was 5-for-5 at 2 and cemnted his championship with a game win from an impossible post in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland in October. Son of Uncle Mo just keeps answering every question O’Neill has asked, and while many questioned him on paper as a juvenile (including this handicapper), you have to give him all the props in the world now, as he flew in the San Vicente, going 1:20 3/5 and making a good horse in Exaggerator look plenty ordinary. On the other side of the coin, he’s traveling 2,700 miles to jump into the fire that the home team of Mohaymen is stoking, and getting 9 furlongs is no guarantee, either, as his daddy came up wanting on more than one occasion when he went this far and beyond in his brilliant career. But as we mentioned, this race track has been known to carry his kind home on the big days, and there’s little doubt that he’s much more tactical than his main rival, so expect to see him on or just off the lead, and he drew much better, too, than Mohaymen, not to mention that he’s likely cranked to the gills to fire a big shot, while Mohaymen could be one race from his best, which is a lot of positives in this corner; thinking he’s in a really good spot…today.
#5 Copingaway (50-1): If we had additional wagering opportunities in the U.S., it would be a fun bet to see who is going to be the longest shot in this race, Sawyers Mickey or this son of Brother Derek, as he’s another who has no business being in here. Tactical sort could be up close for a furlong or two, but if you judge him by his last two, a turf route and dirt sprint—in the optional claiming ranks—then he’ll retreat quite readily on the backstretch, so let’s hope that the two heavy hitters don’t get themselves into trouble from what will be this lapped car. And all of that is before we mention that Mejia is looking to saddle his first winner on the year; next.
#6 Chovanes (30-1): Tactical runner blew the doors off an MCL field here in his last start in February and has Navarro looking to strike while the iron is still hot, as he rises steeply in class. Son of Colonel John is bred to like the added ground and turn he gets here and has the tactical speed to be close early, though that has no relation to where he’ll be late. Give him credit for that breakthrough win, and with just four starts, he has every right to improve here, but on paper he’s closer to ‘Micky and ‘Coping than he is Nyquist and Mohaymen; easy toss.
#7 Takeittotheedge (20-1): Speedy and talented son of Broken Vow ran off the screen in his 7-furlong sprint debut here for Romans last month and gets the proverbial acid test as he looks to make a splash on the Triple Crown scene against two absolute superstars. It’s tough to think he can win off just one sprint run, but you could argue that he’s the most important entry in the field, as he’s the one horse who has shown enough speed and (sprint) stamina to entertain Nyquist, for at least the first mile or so, and that probably has Team Mohaymen pretty happy. How this colt handles a quick run to the first turn, a second turn, and a few extra furlongs is anyone’s guess, but he showed last month that he’s got a future, so while a win seems way, way out of reach, you have to think that they’ll know he’s in here and that he could makes some waves down the line; way too much, too soon today.
#8 Fashionable Freddy (30-1): What would a Gulfstream 3-year-old graded stakes be without a huge longshot from the Zito barn? Well, this son of Tiznow checks off the box, as he’s been no better than fourth in a trio of two-turn optional claimers here this year and is overmatched on paper. If you’re an exotics player, then just maybe he could fill out your superfecta, since, after you get past Fellowship and ‘Edge, there are not many others who can contend for even a minor award, so if you’re a fan of this Hall of Fame barn, then just maybe you toss this colt in on that last rung; could split the field.
#9 Mohaymen (1-1): The star of the show just keeps rolling along for McLaughlin, and he deserves to be favored today as he’s the house horse and proved that he likes this strip with a decisive win in the GII Holy Bull in January before his more workmanlike win in the Fountain of Youth. Son of Tapit has enough tactical speed to be placed anywhere, so even though this wide draw is a bit of a worry, he’s got enough early zip to get a decent position before they make the quick run to the first turn, which will allow him to gauge what Nyquist is doing early and act accordingly. If you want to nitpick, you can say he’s really not all that fast on paper, and he did have to work a bit harder than expected to get past Zulu last time, when you take into account the way that race played out, as the latter did all the dirty work pressing the sprinter Awesome Banner while this colt sat back and licked his chops. You also have to remember that Team Nyquist already won a Kentucky Derby a few years back with I’ll Have Another, and they’re going for an extra $1 million today, while Kentucky-bred McLaughlin and the Shadwell conglomerate have always had that race at the top of their bucket list, so, point being, the former might be ready to deliver 110% today, while the latter might be saving a little more lemon juice for Churchill; second-best.
#10 Isofass (30-1): Yet another surprising entrant, this son of Rodman will add Lasix after running third in a track and distance optional claimer in February, when he chased early and tired late behind a Pletcher colt named Battery, who did no running when 10th in last Saturday’s GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Abbott certainly swings for the fences here, but, as if this runner weren’t a big longshot to begin with, he drew absolutely terribly, as this wide draw will cause him to lose a ton of ground with the extremely short run to the first turn. Lightly raced runner could have a nice campaign if he’s spotted correctly on the Maryland circuit this year, but that seems about a million miles away from sunny South Florida today; can’t endorse.