Trainer Rick Violette feels he has the best horse in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) in sure favorite Read the Footnotes, but admits a pace scenario with Value Plus loose on the lead scares him.
With a field of anywhere from six to nine expected for the nine-furlong race, Violette said on a national teleconference Tuesday he is very interested in the status of the speedy Frisky Spider, who may run instead in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (gr. II).
"Value Plus is the scariest horse in the field," Violette said. "He can be his own worst enemy coming out of the gate, but he's very fast horse, and if he gets loose on the lead, especially at Gulfstream, that's a dangerous scenario. It's a scene I don't want to see played out. I'm just hoping someone shows up and puts some heat on him."
Value Plus' trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he won't instruct jockey John Velazquez to gun the colt to the lead, but added that the son of Unbridled's Song
could very well do it on his own. "If Frisky Spider doesn't run there, then we'll probably be on the lead," Pletcher said.
Violette also has to worry about how Read the Footnotes will bounce back after such a grueling effort in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), in which he scored a neck victory over Second of June after a gut-wrenching stretch battle, in which he earned a huge 113 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He's bounced back quite well," he said. "The day after the race, he ate up, and he's eaten everything in sight since then. Coming off such a strenuous race, I did baby him a little over the next three weeks, giving him just a little half-mile breeze in :50, which is an open gallop for him. Six days later, I gave him a wake-up call, and he worked six furlongs in 1:12 2/5, which put a crease in his back. You had to know the Fountain of Youth was taxing on him, and it forced him into an easy training regiment.
"I hope he doesn't have to run as hard this time, but even if he did it's still seven weeks to the Derby. He could regress in his Speed Sheets numbers and still get the job done. I just don't want to see him run another career best race. Right now, the Wood Memorial (gr. I) is our first choice as his final Derby prep, but the Illinois Derby (gr. II) is another option, because coming a week earlier, it would give us four weeks going into the (Kentucky) Derby."
Violette also will saddle Swingforthefences in Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). The son of Boston Harbor is coming off an explosive victory in allowance company.
"If Limehouse beats us and we run a big race, I won't be disappointed," Violette said. "Tampa Bay is a funny track in that it has a lot of sand, and sometimes horses do better with a race over it. The way he won his last race was uncommon, especially at Gulfstream. He went from getting nothing to being five in front in the blink of an eye. I think he's a sleepr, but he needs to step up on Sunday and after that."
Pletcher, who trains Limehouse, said he chose the Tampa Derby because the timing was right and the distance. "This gives us four weeks from the Hutcheson, a mile and sixteenth is an attractive distance to stretch him out again, and it's a short van ride from Palm Meadows."
Definite starters for the Florida Derby in addition to Read the Footnotes and Value Plus are The Cliff's Edge, Tapit, Sir Oscar, and Friends Lake.