Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner Read the Footnotes heads a field of 10 in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I), with four horses entering the picture at the 11th hour following last week's defection of Master David.
There are several questions surrounding the mile and an eighth race. How will Read the Footnotes rebound from his gut-wrenching battle with Second of June in the Fountain of Youth? Will his jockey, Jerry Bailey, be able to avoid another slugfest, this time with the brilliant Value Plus? Will Frisky Spider and Value Plus burn each other out? And how will the undefeated Tapit perform in his first start since last November and having missed 19 days of training with a shin problem?
The Florida Derby will separate the men from the boys and should expose any horses with distance limitations. On the other hand, it should provide a good springboard for any late-developing horses closing at the end.
But the main focus will be on Read the Footnotes, who captured last year's Remsen (gr. II) and Nashua Stakes (gr. III) and earned a huge 113 Beyer Speed figure in the Fountain of Youth. The last thing trainer Rick Violette wants to see is another career best effort. He said he's hoping the son of Smoke Glacken
can regress a little off that race and still win on his talent and class.
With Value Plus drawing post 8 and Frisky Spider breaking next to him in post 9, it almost assures both horses will have to come out running and get position on the rail. That would enable Bailey, coming out of post 3, to take a nice hold of Read the Footnotes and sit right behind them without using his horse. What will make it even easier for him is having The Cliff's Edge and Friends Lake, both come-from-behind horses, breaking from posts 1 and 2, respectively.
Tapit, who many feel is ambitiously placed in here, not having run in four months and with only two career starts under him, will break from post 4 under Edgar Prado. He no doubt will try to take his colt back and conserve as much for the end as possible. The son of Pulpit
overcame a ton of trouble in the Laurel Futurity (gr. III), then displayed an explosive turn of foot, charging to the front and drawing off to win by almost five lengths. Trainer Michael Dickinson worked him seven furlongs between races at Laurel of Feb. 25, having him split horses in the stretch. He came back with a mile work at his Tapeta Farm, then worked him five furlongs 1:07 on Monday, while finishing uphill and into a strong head wind. Now it's just a question whether he's fit enough to go nine furlongs in this kind of company off a layoff.
Still another question mark is Sir Oscar, who suffered his first defeat in the Fountain of Youth after six consecutive victories. After discovering the son of Halo's Image
had bled in the race, owner and breeder Oscar Novo took him away from trainer Manny Azpurua and sent him to Marty Wolfson. Under Azpurua's care, Sir Oscar captured five stakes at Calder, including a sweep of the Florida Stallion Stakes Series.
A major key to the race will be how effective Value Plus will be stretching out off his brilliant seven-furlong allowance race, and whether John Velazquez can rate him. The son of Unbridled's Song
had a series of nightmare starts last year, culminating with him dumping Velazquez in the Nashua Stakes. But he broke cleanlly in his 3-year-old debut and proceeded to run his field into the ground , winning by five lengths in 1:21 2/5.
The Cliff's Edge, who was upset in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs after scoring victories in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) and Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs last fall, should benefit from the larger field and the presence of Frisky Spider. Trainer Nick Zito believes the son of Gulch
will improve in leaps and bounds off his last race and expects a big performance on Saturday.
The same can be said of Friends Lake, who trainer John Kimmel feels is coming up to a big performance after finishing a well-beaten third in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). The son of A.P. Indy
has been working steadily at Payson Park, and will be ridden by Richard Migliore.
Of the newcomers to the field, the dark horse could be Notorious Rogue, who is coming off three allowance defeats, but was closing well in all of them, and has the second race blinkers on angle. Last year, the son of Victory Gallop
finished a fast-closing third in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). Joe Bravo picks up the mount.
The remainder of the fields consists of Farnum Alley (Pat Day), Frisky Spider (Eddie King Jr.), and Smoocher (Jose Santos). Frisky Spider won his first three career starts, all in sprints, before stopping in the Fountain of Youth. But the son of Frisk Me Now
came out of the race with a virus. He recently worked five furlongs in a sizzling :58 4/5 and gets blinkers for the first time.
Entrants for the grade I Florida Derby, $1,000,000 guaranteed, 3-year-olds, one mile and an eighth:
PP, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight
1 -- The Cliff's Edge, Nick Zito, Shane Sellers, 122
2 -- Friends Lake, John Kimmel, Richard Migliore, 122
3 -- Read the Footnotes, Richard Violette, Jerry Bailey, 122
4 -- Tapit, Michael Dickinson, Edgar Prado, 122
5 -- Farnum Alley, Tony Reinstedler, Pat Day, 122
6 -- Sir Oscar, Marty Wolfson, J.A. Garcia, 122
7 -- Notorious Rogue, Mark Hennig, Joe Bravo, 122
8 -- Value Plus, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 122
9 -- Frisky Spider, Bob Durso, Eddie King Jr., 122
10 -- Smoocher, David Bell, Jose Santos, 122