The $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) was shaping up to be the most intriguing Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep of the season anyway. With speedball Flashpoint now involved, it has become a must-watch race for all those handicapping the Triple Crown.
Dazzling Hutcheson (gr. II) winner Flashpoint and four of the top Kentucky Derby contenders are among a field of eight that was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby. The April 3 event at Gulfstream Park is the feature on a 12-race card with a probable post time of 5:42 p.m. EDT.
Despite drawing the outside post, Peachtree Stable’s Flashpoint is expected to be the pacesetter in the Florida Derby after romping to a 7 1/4-length score in the Feb. 26 Hutcheson. Undefeated in two starts this year, Flashpoint (6-1) was also being considered for the seven-furlong Swale (gr. II) earlier in the afternoon, but the connections opted to test the Pomeroy colt against the heavyweights in his route debut. Cornelio Velasquez will have the mount.
“Mr. (John) Fort and I felt we needed to take a shot," trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said. "We are doing it based on how we have seen this horse run—how he finished the last time and in his training. We can’t say with 100% confidence that he will go two turns. Now is the time to find out.
"We will be out fast but we don’t need to be on the lead. A lot of people are forgetting that we let another horse (Travelin Man) have the lead in the Hutcheson."
Soldat was able to dictate the pace in his two-length Fountain of Youth (gr. II) victory on Feb. 26 and in his 10 3/4-length allowance romp in January, but will likely sit off Flashpoint in the Florida Derby despite drawing the rail. The son of War Front has experience running without the lead as a juvenile, including his decisive victory in the With Anticipation (gr. IIIT) last summer on the Saratoga turf course.
Never worse than second in seven lifetime starts, Soldat is the deserving 9-5 morning-line favorite. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the colt for majority owner Harvey A. Clarke. Alan Garcia will ride once again. They also broke from the 1 post in the Fountain of Youth.
“This is not like the last race where we were the only speed and needed to get a fast break from the rail," McLaughlin said. “I expect that Alan will settle him inside and wait for about the first three-eighths to see how it shapes up. Dutrow’s horse is on the outside, and he looks like the most early speed. I expect he will clear and take the lead. There are several others in there with speed.”
Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve (4-1) was a disappointing third in the Fountain of Youth when defeated by nearly seven lengths in his season debut. The Bill Mott trainee came into 2011 as one of the top Triple Crown hopefuls after winning three of four starts as a juvenile, including the Remsen (gr. II) and Nashua (gr. II) at Aqueduct.
Mott is expecting an improved effort from To Honor and Serve in his second start off a layoff. Garrett Gomez will be in the irons for the first time on the son of Bernardini. They will break from post 2.
The other two highly-regarded starters are Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty and Robert LaPenta’s Dialed In. Stay Thirsty (8-1) enters the race off a workmanlike 3 1/4-length win in the March 5 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct in his season debut. Also by Bernardini, Stay Thirsty had trained sharply for Todd Pletcher at Palm Meadows for the Gotham, while working alongside stablemate Uncle Mo, who is currently the Kentucky Derby favorite.
Stay Thirsty, the Three Chimney’s Hopeful (gr. I) runner-up last year, will add blinkers for the first time in the Florida Derby in an effort to keep him more focused on his task. Ramon Dominguez will have the call.
“I expect him to run big,” Repole said. “The longer he goes, the better off he will be. This is a good test for us to see where he stacks up.”
Dialed In (2-1) became a Derby contender after the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (gr. III) when he came flying from off the pace to score by 1 1/2 lengths in his season debut. The Mineshaft colt made his anticipated two-turn debut in a short optional claiming race on March 6, closing well but finishing second to 4-year-old stablemate Equestrio by a half-length as the 1-5 favorite. The Nick Zito trainee has recorded consecutive bullet works at Palm Meadows and certainly seems ready to fire a big effort this time around. Julien Leparoux will have the mount again.
The other three starters—all at morning-line odds of 20-1— will all have to improve to beat this stacked field. Centennial Farms’ Arch Traveler makes his stakes debut after winning a nine-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream for his second win in three starts this season. Martin Schwartz’s Bowman's Causeway, and Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge’s Shackleford were fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Fountain of Youth.
$1 million Florida Derby (gr. I, Race 10, 5:42 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Trainer, Odds 1. Soldat, 122, Garcia, McLaughlin, K, 9-5
2. To Honor and Serve, 122, Gomez, Mott, W, 4-1
3. Arch Traveler, 122, Lezcano, Jerkens, J, 20-1
4. Bowman's Causeway, 122, Lopez, Biancone, P, 20-1
5. Shackleford, 122, Castanon, Romans, D, 20-1
6. Stay Thirsty, 122, R. A. Dominguez, Pletcher, T, 8-1
7. Dialed In, 122, Leparoux, R Zito, N, 8-1
8. Flashpoint, 122, Velasquez, Dutrow, R., 6-1