Edited from Gulfstream Park track notes
With Triple Crown candidates falling by the wayside or failing to advance in stature, Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) takes on added significance as it matches the best of Florida against a promising invader with impeccable connections.
A field of seven was entered Wednesday for Saturday's 52nd running of the mile and an eighth Florida Derby, the only $1 million race in the nation for 3-year-olds before the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). All starters carry 122 pounds, and the winner's share will be $600,000.
The centerpiece of Gulfstream's 2003 meeting will be run as the eighth event on a 12-race program, with a scheduled post time of 4:18 p.m. The race will be televised live on ESPN2 during a half-hour broadcast from 4-4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Gulfstream's Florida Derby Day program will start early, with gates opening at 10:30 a.m. and the day's first race scheduled to go off at 12 noon.
The two favorites in the Florida Derby will be the local hero, Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) winner Trust N Luck, and the invader, Empire Maker. The odds maker has them close together on the morning line, with Empire Maker the slight choice at 9-5 and Trust N Luck right behind at 2-1.
The others entered are an intriguing mix, and they include an unbeaten colt in Senor Swinger, a stakes winner in Supah Blitz, and three Gulfstream winners in Formal Attire, Indy Dancer and Midway Cat.
Juddmonte Farms Inc.'s Empire Maker has only broken his maiden in three lifetime starts, but the dark bay colt has the best connections. He is a son of Unbridled, who won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby in 1990, and he's trained by Bobby Frankel and will be ridden by Jerry Bailey. Frankel and Bailey have won Eclipse Awards as the best in their respective professions the last three years in a row. And, as icing on the cake, Frankel noted after winning the Louisiana Derby with Peace Rules that he believes his top Kentucky Derby hope is Empire Maker. The colt won his first career start last Oct. 20, taking a one-mile maiden race at Belmont. In his next start, he ran third behind Toccet in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct. Most recently, Empire Maker made his 3-year-old debut in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7. Bailey moved him along the rail, but the colt fell a length short of catching Man Among Men. Empire Maker arrived at Gulfstream on Tuesday and will gallop up to the race. This will be Frankel's second starter in the Florida Derby. He saddled Ruhlmann to finish eighth in 1988.
Trainer Ralph Ziadie has his third Florida Derby starter and perhaps best Kentucky Derby hope in Einar Paul Robsham's Trust N Luck. The Montbrook colt won four of his eight starts as a juvenile, including three Calder stakes, and made his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth. Trust N Luck took the track that day under Cornelio Velasquez and never looked back, drawing off to win by more than five lengths and getting the mile and a sixteenth in a quick 1:43 1/5. The colt drew the rail for the Florida Derby, and with his speed will take a lot of catching at nine furlongs. He's been training sharply at Calder, and Ziadie has already announced that if Trust N Luck comes out of the Florida Derby in good shape, he will go straight to the Kentucky Derby. If that happens, it will be Ziadie's first appearance in the Run for the Roses. He had his best Florida Derby showing in 2000, when Tahkodha Hills ran third.
Senor Swinger, owned by Robert Ackerman and Barry Golden and trained by Mickey Goldfine, will be making just his third career start Saturday. The son of El Prado broke his maiden emphatically at Hawthorne last December, then did not make his second start until Jan. 31, when he finished in a dead-heat for the win with Ten Cents a Shine in a good Gulfstream allowance race. The gray colt will have Edgar Prado in the boot again as he tries to take another step forward on his road to the classics.
Midway Cat, trained by Rick Hiles and owned by Hiles in partnership with R.D. Buckley, R.B. McMahan and J.L. Mudd, is 5-1 on the morning line. The Sir Cat colt, who won an allowance race at Gulfstream in January, had some trouble on first turn in the Fountain of Youth and still managed to run third. Jorge Chavez, who was aboard that day, has the call.
Trainer Manny Tortora sends out the most experienced member of the field in Supah Blitz, who is owned by John Bush and Jacqueline Tortora. The son of Mecke (a multiple graded stakes winner for Tortora) will be making his 14th career start in the Florida Derby. Supah Blitz has run behind Trust N Luck three times and in front of him just once while compiling a record of two wins, six seconds and three thirds in 13 starts. In the Fountain of Youth, jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. drove the rail with Supah Blitz to be a clear second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Midway Cat. The colt represents Homeister's best chance to ride in the Kentucky Derby.
The outsiders on the morning line are Wertheimer Farm's Indy Dancer and Flying Zee Stable's Formal Attire. Indy Dancer is one of several 3-year-olds trainer Todd Pletcher considered for the Florida Derby. The A.P. Indy colt stamped himself as one to watch here on Jan. 4, when he ran off with an allowance race. However, his star dimmed last out when he ran seventh as the favorite in the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. The return to Gulfstream should make for a better showing Saturday, with John Velazquez again in the irons.
Formal Attire was a late addition to the Florida Derby list, but trainer Phil Serpe was encouraged to nominate the colt after three strong races over the Gulfstream strip. A son of Formal Gold, the colt was second in a maiden race her Jan. 11, broke his maiden on Feb. 8, and last out on Feb. 22 was second to the promising Eugene's Third Son in an allowance race. Formal Attire had a physical problem last year (undescended testicle) that was remedied this winter, and gets a new rider for the Florida Derby in Eibar Coa, top jockey at Gulfstream this meeting.
ESPN2 will broadcast the Florida Derby from 4-4:30 p.m. (EST) on March 15. Magna's HorseRacing TV will show the race on a tape-delay basis.
The field for the March 15 Florida Derby, run over nine furlongs for a $1,000,000 purse.
Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1--Trust N Luck, Ralph Ziadie, Cornelio Velasquez, 2-1
2--Supah Blitz, Manny Tortora, Rosemary Homeister Jr., 8-1
3--Midway Kat, Rick Hiles, Jorge Chavez, 5-1
4--Indy Dancer, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 10-1
5--Senor Swinger, Mickey Goldfine, Edgar Prado, 6-1
6--Empire Maker, Bobby Frankel, Jerry Bailey, 9-5
7--Formal Attire, Phil Serpe, Eibar Coa, 12-1Click here to read comments from the trainers and jockeys involved in the Florida Derby.Click here to read about Midway Cat and Senor Swinger's Wednesday works for the race and Empire Maker's arrival at Gulfstream.Click here to what Frankel and Ziadie had to say two days before the race.