Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown: The Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park: The $1 million GI Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-40-20-10)

Strike Power & Luis Saez in the Swale at Gulfstream Park. Photo: Lauren King

#1 Strike Power (4-1): The expected inside speed got caught napping a bit when second in last month’s local prep, the GII Fountain of Youth, when fellow rival Promises Fulfilled broke sharply, was able to get over and set the pace, and essentially lull them all to sleep on the engine in a merry-go-round race. However, there’s little doubt this son of Speightstown is faster early, so expect Saez to go today, not only because they drew the fence, but because they had every chance to run down ‘Fulfilled off the far turn last time and couldn’t, which says going early might be the more desired path to the winner’s circle. Hennig has had a fine meet, and this local GIII sprint winner deserves to be here, but there’s a ton more speed today, and those who followed him after the wire last time know how be basically stopped on a dime, which says this demanding 1 1/8 miles is going to stretch his rubber band mighty, mighty thin today; tossing completely.

#2 Millionaire Runner (50-1): The first of two who figure over 100-1 needed 30k maiden claimers at Parx to get to the winner’s circle, has a trainer in Mejia who is 3-for-143 at the meet and was just fourth at 72-1 in a local optional-claimer, so yeah, this son of Warrior’s Reward is in way over his head today; get home safely.

#3 Tip Sheet (30-1): Homebred son of Brethren is the second ginormous longshot and was over 20 lengths behind today’s heavy favorite Audible in the local GII Holy Bull in early February and was a very slow third in an AOC here last month for 3-for-70 Gold, so it’s pretty obvious who ‘Runner’s exacta partner for last and second-to-last is; next.

#4 Promises Fulfilled (3-1): The upset winner of the Fountain of Youth figures to face an entirely different set of circumstances today, as not only will he not be loose through a pedestrian 48.39 half-mile, but he could very likely not be on the lead at the pace call for the first time in four career races, so how he reacts to that will be a big determining factor as to how he finishes up. Son of Shackleford is a lot like his dad, as he likes to hear his feet rattle early, and he easily held ‘Power and 2-year-old champ Good Magic at bay through the lane of the Fountain of Youth, but don’t forget, they used the first finish line that day, so this is a very true 1 1/8 miles he has to negotiate today. Kudos to Romans for having him ready off a November layoff last time, and you’re allowed to think he could even improve off that return, but with a race flow that is expected to be decidedly different this time around, he’s the type you have to make prove it; not expecting a repeat.

#5 Storm Runner (20-1): Intriguing longshot is the second from Romans and actually was one of the few to make a move in the Fountain of Youth, though unfortunately for him it was on the backstretch and he got stopped on a dime, checked out of it and lost all chance in a race where basically no one changed position. Well, he’s back today and has a nice stalking gear that will allow him to lay off all the speed, and while his AOC win two-back was slow on paper, he did look good doing it to signal that there’s some talent here. Son of Get Stormy definitely has to raise his game to get a piece, but the price will be right if you believe, and the race flow surely will, too, so you could do worse than trying to sneak him into your exotics; may spice things up underneath.

Catholic Boy and Manny Franco. NYRA/Chelsea Durand

#6 Catholic Boy (7-2): Major player has been very lightly campaigned since winning his dirt debut in fine fashion in Aqueduct’s GII Remsen last November, as he’s started just once this year, which resulted in a solid, if unspectacular, second in the GIII Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in February. And sure, he did hang a bit that day, but Flameaway walked on the lead and was game in victory and followed that up with a very underrated second in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, which flatters this son of More Than Ready’s form for sure. Thomas has been patient since and circled this race on the calendar long ago, and that local breeze last week says it’s “all systems go” for a colt who figures to sit a dream trip off what is expected to be a hot and contested pace; call to post the mild surprise.

#7 Hofburg (20-1): Juddmonte homebred son of Tapit gets thrown into the deep end of the pool right off a local maiden win last time, in just his second start, so there are some mighty tall hurdles he’ll have to clear here if he’s to make an impact. Of course, Mott isn’t in the Hall of Fame by running horses where they can’t compete, so the fact that this dude is even in here says that he’s likely tearing the barn down and has never been better, so there are some positives just beneath the surface. The other good news is that the price will be big on a colt who really improved with two turns and Lasix last time, is a half-brother to four-time GI winner Emollient, and has more upside than anyone else in the field, so while a win is out of reach, he’s another who could add plenty of value underneath; thinking he outruns his odds.

Javier Castellano rides Audible to the win in the Holy Bull. Gulfstream Park photo

#8 Audible (9-5): The clear and deserving favorite aired in the Holy Bull in an effort that was far and away his best to date, and while he’s been a bit forgotten, this was the plan all along for Pletcher, and this colt fits the bill of yet another for this barn who freaked over the GP strip. Tactical son of Into Mischief has the dreaded “bounce” to worry about, but he has won three in a row now and could also simply be coming into his own, over a track he may just love, too, and there’s a good chance that he could regress and still win, as that GII score was just that good. The post is no bargain, though, as there’s a very quick run into the first turn, so he’ll have to break running to avoid being wide, but there’s plenty of speed inside that will allow him to get over a bit, and there’s little doubt he’s going to be ahead of the pick entering the far turn, which could be all he needs to double up; rock solid.

#9 Mississippi (12-1): Pricey son of Pioneerof the Nile hasn’t lived up to that 700k price tag yet, though he has run well in two starts against winners, which included a hard-fought second to Fair Grounds GII Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy in an AOC here two-back, then a neck loss to ‘Runner last time. Casse adds blinkers today to what is an already speedy package, and with a terrible outside draw he has to go, at least to some extent, so he’s yet another reason why the pace looks hot today. The gut says there’s talent here, and that he’ll make a dent in a graded stakes at some point this year, but the wide draw and disadvantageous race flow says it will not be today; tough to tout.


#6 Catholic Boy

#8 Audible

#5 Storm Runner

#7 Hofburg


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