For a million-dollar purse, and with no clear-cut favorite, it's no surprise that 13 horses passed the entry box for Saturday's grade I Florida Derby. The only real surprises in the field are California invader Trailthefox, last year's Arlington-Washington Futurity winner who was supposed to stay in sprint races, and the Nick Zito-trained It's So Simple, an impressive allowance winner at the meet whom Zito called "the best kept secret on the backstretch."
The remainder of the field is comprised of horses coming out of the Fountain of Youth Stakes and high-class allowance races, plus the D. Wayne Lukas shipper Turnberry Isle, who has been training at Santa Anita.
Despite the evenly matched group of 3-year-olds, the focus will be on Songandaprayer, who caught everyone napping and stole the Fountain of Youth Stakes, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Although many believe that won't happen again, there appears to be no reason why it shouldn't. If the son of Unbridled's Song takes after his daddy, he could be as adept at "stealing" as John Dillinger. The fact is, someone has to go out there and prevent him from doing it if the closers are going to have any chance. But is anyone willing to compromise their own chances and risk falling off the Derby trail?
The kicker is that trainer John Dowd says he expects Songandaprayer to be laying third or fourth, which could really scramble everything. "We planned on taking him off the pace in the Fountain of Youth," Dowd said. "But when the gates opened, it was up to Edgar (Prado). In the Florida Derby we'd like to come from behind. He did it in the (6-furlong) Huntington Stakes in New York and we know he will rate."
If Songandaprayer again goes against his trainer's wishes and heads for the front again, the one horse capable of pressing him, and even outrunning him, is Trailthefox, who showed excellent early speed last year, and who chased fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 1/5 while finishing second in the recent Baldwin Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs. The question regarding the son of Foxtrail is whether his rider, French jockey Olivier Peslier, has it in him to go that fast early. If Trailthefox puts enough pressure on Songandaprayer, then we can see the floodgates opening at the quarter pole and all the closers charging for home. Another colt, the $1.8 million yearling Talk is Money, has good early speed, but never got a chance to use it in the Fountain of Youth after he remained in the gate well after the others had departed.
The two most intriguing horses in the race are allowance winners Monarchos and You Know Who. Monarchos has been brilliant in his last two starts, and in his last work, he flew home his final eighth in :11 1/5 with the rider shutting him down. The son of Maria's Mon has excellent natural speed, and Jorge Chavez should have him sitting right in behind the leaders. Kent Desormeaux picks up the mount on You Know Who, a son of Southern Halo who blew his field away with a monster move from last to win going away in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race. Although he drew post 11, the two horses inside him, Talk is Money and Songandaprayer, both will be busting out of there, and he should be able to move in and get a good position.
Some of the other live horses are Fountain of Youth runner-up Outofthebox, who overcame a bad start and some erratic running in the stretch to finish second; Turnberry Isle, who ran a dismal race in the Santa Catalina, but who was beaten only 3 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; 2-year-old star City Zip, who needs to relax early if he's going to have enough of a punch left in the stretch; Dream Run, who finished a solid second behind Hero's Tribute in a 7-furlong allowance race on the Fountain of Youth card; and Invisible Ink, riding a three-race winning streak. Invisible Ink and You Know Who both are trained by Todd Pletcher. Of these, Turnberry Isle looks like a potential sleeper, having worked well at Santa Anita in the mud. The son of Deputy Minister could be picking them off in the stretch if the pace is hot enough.
Ir's So Simple captured a 1 1/8-mile allowance race back on Jan. 21, earning a huge 95 Beyer Speed Figure. But the son of Smart Strike, who looks to be a mid-pack type of runner, breaks from the disadvantageous post 13 under Eibar Coa.
The remainder of the field consists of Holy Bull winner Radical Riley and the Holy Bull third-place finisher Cee Dee, both of whom are looking to rebound from poor efforts in the Fountain of Youth.
Another jockey change will be Michael McCarthy replacing Mario Verge on Talk is Money, who will be making only his fourth career start and must bounce back big-time after his dull effort in the Fountain of Youth.