Lael Stables' undefeated Barbaro was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite when a field of 11 3-year-olds was drawn for Saturday's Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.
But trouble may loom for the son of Dynaformer
: having drawn the unfavorable 10 post, he may be forced to take the overland route in order to extend his winning streak to five.
"It's probably not what we wanted," trainer Mike Matz said about the draw. "It may force us to use him too early. I just hope we can get good position -- that's what we hired Edgar (Prado) to do."
Although Barbaro has won all of his starts -- including scores in the Laurel Futurity, Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT), and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) -- he has yet to be tested over a dry dirt course such as the one he is likely to face in this weekend's 1 1/8-mile event.
Both of the former races, as well as his maiden were on the turf, and the Holy Bull victory -- achieved by a diminishing three-quarter lengths over Great Point -- came over a sloppy surface.
"Everybody seems to be questioning this or that, but I can't say a single thing bad about the way he's raced or trained," Matz continued. "He's coming into this race absolutely perfectly, and he's handled everything we've thrown at him."
Second choice Flashy Bull enters the Florida Derby from the strangely run Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), in which he finished third after being bothered in the stretch run by Corinthian. After that colt was disqualified, Flashy Bull was placed second behind First Samurai.
West Point Thoroughbred's son of Holy Bull
, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, had finished fourth to Barbaro in the Holy Bull in his prior start and owns just a single win in eight lifetime starts.
High Blues is another with similar form, and the color bearer of Dixiana Stables' William Shiveley, although eligible for a first level allowance, will make his stakes debut in the $1-million race.
His trainer, David Paulus, perhaps expressed best the hopes of the trainers who chose to tackle Barbaro on Saturday.
"Barbaro is a good horse but obviously there are some issues," he said. "Maybe there will be some other speed to go with him, and we still don't know if he'll run as well on the dirt as in the slop or on grass. I guess I'm not the only one thinking that."
Among the other contenders for the Florida Derby are the speedy Swale Stakes (gr. II) victor Sharp Humor, making his two turn debut; the Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Saint Augustus and Sunriver; and Charming Image, undefeated in three starts for a tag since a January claim by trainer Tony Pecoraro for $25,000.
Nick Zito, whose trainees High Fly and Noble Causeway ran one-two in last year's Florida Derby, will once again saddle a pair of runners: Doc Cheney and Hesanoldsalt.
Rounding out the field are Rehoboth, the veteran of the field with 11 lifetime starts, and California invader Sam's Ace.$1 Million Florida Derby (gr. I, Race 12, 5:42 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Colts & Geldings, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Hesanoldsalt (KY), Eddie Castro
2. Flashy Bull (KY), Rafael Bejarano
3. Saint Augustus (KY), Christopher P. DeCarlo
4. Doc Cheney (KY), Jeremy Rose
5. Sunriver (KY), John R. Velazquez
6. Rehoboth (FL), Javier Castellano
7. Sharp Humor (NY), Mark Guidry
8. High Blues (KY), Cornelio H. Velasquez
9. Charming Image (FL), Rajiv Maragh
10. Barbaro (KY), Edgar S. Prado
11. Sam's Ace (CA), Felipe F. MartinezEach assigned 122 pounds.