Two of the last three Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners came out of the Florida Derby (gr. I), and based on the talent that will go to post in this year’s edition of Gulfstream Park’s signature event, it would not be surprising to see a third go on to wear the roses.
Led by three highly-regarded colts – Dunkirk , Quality Road and Theregoesjojo – a field of nine 3-year-olds was drawn for the 58th running of the $750,000 Florida Derby March 28. The 1 1/8-mile event is the second of three graded stakes on the Gulfstream program, with post time set for 5:44 p.m. EDT.
Despite having just two career starts and making his graded-stakes debut, Dunkirk was installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, which is no real surprise since the gray/roan colt was also the bettors’ choice when the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 closed March 15.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Dunkirk has sparkled thus far. The son of Unbridled's Song —Secret Status, by A.P. Indy, broke his maiden by nearly six lengths Jan. 24 at Gulfstream, running seven furlongs in 1:25. Less than a month later in a 1 1/8-mile allowance test on the same track, Dunkirk was caught five-wide on the first turn under Garrett Gomez, but moved into winning position around the far turn and pulled away in the stretch to win by 4 3/4 lengths. His final time was 1:50.15.
Since that impressive allowance score, Dunkirk has worked three times at Palm Meadows Training Center, including a bullet move March 21 when he was clocked in 1:00.15 for five furlongs. Gomez, a two-time reigning Eclipse Award winner, will fly in from California for the return mount. They will break from post four.
Because he has no graded stakes earnings, Dunkirk would need to finish first or second to ensure a spot in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.
Dunkirk was bred in Kentucky by Will Farish, James Elkins, and W. T. Webber Jr. He is owned by the Coolmore partnership of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, who purchased the colt for $3.7 million at the Keeneland September 2007 yearling sale.
"Obviously, coming out of the Florida Derby we'll know a lot more about where we stand," Pletcher said. "But at this stage of the game, we feel like that he's the strongest candidate that we've had to date in terms of a horse that has a tremendous amount of ability and has the pedigree and style in which we feel like he will carry it a mile and a quarter."
In order to ensure a quick pace for Dunkirk, Coolmore also entered Europe, another son of Unbridled’s Song who was fourth in his only career start, a maiden special weight race Feb. 21 at Gulfstream. A $2.6-million yearling, Europe will break from post eight with Chris DeCarlo aboard and is expected to be sent right to the front.
While Dunkirk will test stakes company for the first time, Quality Road (2-1) and Theregoesjojo (5-1) figure to play a big role based on their efforts in the Feb. 28 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II). In that one-turn mile Gulfstream event, Quality Road stalked a quick pace, took over rounding the turn, and drew away for a convincing 4 1/4-length victory under John Velazquez while earning a lofty 113 Beyer Speed Figure. Theregoesjojo came from off the pace and closed well for runner-up despite being taken four-wide into the stretch by Kent Desormeaux.
The order of finish in the Fountain of Youth was reversed when the two rivals met for the first time Jan. 10 at Gulfstream. In that seven-furlong allowance sprint, Theregoesjojo defeated Quality Road by 2 3/4 lengths.
A Virginia homebred of Edward Evans, Quality Road has made one other start in his career, that coming when he broke his maiden in November at Aqueduct going 6 1/2 furlongs. The son of Elusive Quality —Kobla, by Strawberry Road will break from post two with Velazquez in the irons. The Jimmy Jerkens trainee tuned up for the Florida Derby March 21, breezing seven furlongs in 1:25.
Samotowka Stables and partners’ Theregoesjojo broke his maiden in his first start back in May at Churchill Downs. Trainer Ken McPeek then tried the Brahms colt in the July 5 Bashford Manor (gr. III) at Churchill, but he finished fourth in a troubled trip.
Theregoesjojo turned in his final work March 22 at Gulfstream, breezing six furlongs in 1:15.20 in the slop. Desormeaux will ride again and they will break from post six.
A pair of colts hoping to build upon off-the-board finishes in the Jan. 31 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) will look for the upset. New Life Stable and Equus Racing’s Stately Character (20-1) was fifth in the Holy Bull after starting slowly and then making a mild rally. Since then, the Pleasant Tap colt finished last in Dunkirk’s allowance win, and was a much-improved runner-up last out in a March 6 nine-furlong allowance. Rene Douglas rides for Gerald Procino.
Lansdon Robbins and Samuel Delaney’s Danger to Society (6-1) was seventh in the Holy Bull when trained by McPeek and has been on the sidelines since. Now conditioned by Rick Dutrow Jr., he won his other two career starts, breaking his maiden at Churchill in November and taking a 1 1/8-mile allowance contest Jan. 8 at Gulfstream. Mario Madrid will be in the irons.
John Oxley’s Beethoven, winner of last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) and the expected third or fourth choice in the Florida Derby, was not entered.
“There was some heat in a tendon in a front leg (March 25),” trainer John Ward said of the Sky Mesa colt. “It seems minor, not extreme, but we decided it’s best to not make a minor situation worse. It’s possible he could be back in the entries in the not-too-distant future.”
ESPN will have a full hour of Florida Derby coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.
$750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I, Race 10, 5:44 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Toby the Coal Man (KY), 122, Julien R. Leparoux
2. Quality Road (VA), 122, John R. Velazquez
3. Casey's On Call (FL), 122, E. T. Baird
4. Dunkirk (KY), 122, Garrett K. Gomez
5. Sincero (FL), 122, Elvis Trujillo
6. Theregoesjojo (KY), 122, Kent J. Desormeaux
7. Danger to Society (KY), 122, Mario Madrid
8. Europe (KY), 122, Christopher P. DeCarlo
9. Stately Character (KY), 122, Rene R. Douglas