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One of my favorite Kentucky Derby prep races, I look forward to the Florida Derby every year no matter who is running. One of top producers of Derby winners and top finishers— particularly in recent years— the race features a rematch between the Holy Bull (III) top two who have not raced since that late January showdown, as well as the Fountain of Youth (II) winner Orb.
Weather looks spotless leading up to the race, so count on Gulfstream to be dry and souped up.
$1 million Florida Derby (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Gulfstream Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 30 at 6:19pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 122 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Shanghai Bobby - Rosie Napravnik, Todd Pletcher - Gallant in defeat last out in the Holy Bull (III), it was reckoned that the formerly spotless Harlan’s Holiday colt needed a good first start back, and lost to a track record-breaker in Itsmyluckyday. Breezing like he has always been doing, Bobby will get the advantageous rail but will need to prove he can last 9+ furlongs here. I won’t beat a dead horse repeating what I think of him.
2) Pick of the Litter - Jesus Castanon, Dale Romans - A Kitten’s Joy who has shown some impressive ability out galloping, he just broke his maiden on his second try last month here at Gulfstream, decimating the field to win by more than 7 lengths over 9 furlongs on dirt. I love Csaba, who was another Kitten’s Joy who proved he liked the dirt a bit more than his grassy pedigree suggested. He didn’t beat much in that maiden, but works like a champion and is worth a look breaking outside of Bobby.
3) Itsmyluckyday - Elvis Trujillo, Eddie Plesa Jr - Impressive in his track record-breaking Holy Bull (III) win, the Lawyer Ron colt has an affinity for Florida tracks with back-to-back stakes wins over Gulfstream’s fast main. A threatening pacestalker, there’s little need for me to reintroduce “Lucky”, who ought to be a factor if not a winner in this race.
4) Pontiff - Alan Garcia, Dale Romans - A half brother to the mighty Pulpit sired by Giant’s Causeway, you’d be correct to expect big things from Pontiff judging by pedigree alone. Racing wide the whole way last out in only his second start, he fell short of his first win by a closing neck over 9 furlongs here at Gulfstream, albeit on a sloppy sealed going. Romans hopes to close that gap with improvement and what will hopefully be a fast pace. A steep ascent in class, he’ll at least be interesting to watch.
5) Frac Daddy - Corey Lanerie, Ken McPeek - The Scat Daddy colt suffered a bruising debut in the Holy Bull (III), where he grabbed a quarter and was found to be with a throat injury. I don’t doubt McPeek’s insistence that this is a class horse who got a poor trip. Uncaptured, who barely beat him in the KY Jockey Club Stakes (II), came back to nearly win the Spiral last weekend and Frac Daddy has some pretty good speed where it counts. Excellent, fast breezes show he’s back in shape.
6) Orb - John Velazquez, Shug McGaughey - The Malibu Moon colt blossomed late, storming to back-to-back wins on Gulfstream’s main in a 9-furlong allowance before upsetting Violence in the Fountain of Youth (II). Johnny V will look for a pace meltdown for this closer. I wish I liked him more, but between the Malibu Moon as a sire thing and how perfectly the FOY set up for him I can’t bring myself to rank him above some others here.
7) Indy’s Illusion - Rajiv Maragh, Barclay Tagg - Winless since October, the classy A.P. Indy colt was bested a neck last out by Gunderman going 9 furlongs here at Gulfstream after falling to Orb in a similar event. He strikes me as a horse who needs more time or even more distance. He can’t keep up with too many at the end, otherwise I would like him more.
8) Merit Man - Kent Desormeaux, Robert Hess - A funny spot for a sprinter. The With Distinction Florida-bred colt won the Spectacular Bid Stakes in his first start of the year before steadying in the Hutcheson (II). Tough to acknowledge this sprinter in a 9-furlong event, especially considering the layoff and inability to win at the graded level yet.
9) Are You Kidding Me - Jose Lezcano, Roger Attfield - The Run Away and Hide colt has decided to try dirt for the first time despite being winless in graded events and since August of last year. On the plus side, he’s classy falling short just a nose last out against Noble Tune in a one-mile grass allowance. Attfield says he trains well on dirt, but yes will be tested here and from an outer post, too. I would willingly take him at long odds in anticipation of headlines reading “Are you kidding me?” in yet another unbelievable Derby prep result. I can see it!
10) Narvaez - Paco Lopez, Agustin Bezara - Always excited to see a Holy Bull colt in the gate. Winner of his sophomore debut, he dead-heated with the talented Declan’s Warrior in a 7 1/2 furlong dash on Gulfstream dirt. Not a whole lot to show class-wise apart from that mention, he hasn’t really been tested and this is a pretty sizeable stretch-out.
Top Picks in Order (with acceptable odds):
1) Itsmyluckyday (2-1)
2) Frac Daddy (10-1)
3) Pick of the Litter (15-1)
Best horse here is Itsmyluckyday, who has a tough record here in Florida and has been conditioned to the mint by Plesa for this race. I’m giving Frac Daddy and Ken McPeek a nod on a track that should fancy this colt’s natural speed. I admit it might be a bit premature to take an interest in Pick of the Litter, but he looked very strong running away in the stretch of his last win and lest we forget how much brother Csaba likes Gulfstream. How high you rank Orb and Shanghai Bobby is going to reflect how you think of Violence and his last race where he was hanging on after a hot pace set things up for Orb quite perfectly. I rank Orb 4th… good… but I question how good?
Value Pick: Are You Kidding Me is going to be my fun value bet. I want crazy good odds on him though, like 30-1. Pick of the Litter of course is going to hopefully be good money too…