Rule is the likely favorite for Saturday's Florida Derby.

Rule is the likely favorite for Saturday's Florida Derby.

Tom Cooley Photography

Rule Heads Lineup for Florida Derby

WinStar Farm homebred replaces Eskendereya as likely favorite for grade I event.

WinStar Farm’s homebred Rule, part of trainer Todd Pletcher's powerful stable of 3-year-olds, is the 5-2 morning line favorite for the $750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park March 20.

The impressive winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 13 heads a field of 11 entered for the 1 1/8-mile event. In a post-position ceremony held a few hours after entries for the race closed, Rule drew post 7 with regular pilot John Velazquez at the controls.

Not included in the field is the Pletcher-trained Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) victor Eskendereya. Owner Zayat Stables decided the 8 1/2-length winner of the FOY should wait for the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct April 3 with the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) rather than run six weeks before the May 1 classic.

The 59th edition of the race, moved up a week on the Gulfstream schedule this year, will top an all-star 12-race program that includes renewals of the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II), $150,000 Swale Stakes (gr. II), $150,000 Rampart Stakes (gr. III), and $100,000 Appleton Stakes (gr. IIIT).

Rule, who won the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) as a 2-year-old, bids for his fifth consecutive victory in the Florida Derby. The colt, by Roman Ruler--Rockcide, by Personal Flag, tallied in the Sam F. Davis by three lengths in front-running style. Rule began his winning streak going one mile at Belmont Park Oct. 8 in his third start. He then romped by eight lengths in the Jean Lafitte Stakes as a prep for the Jackpot at Delta Downs. 

The Florida Derby is featured on this week's That Handicapping Show.

Another strong contender is IEAH Stable and partners’ English-bred Radiohead, at 3-1 with Edgar Prado in the saddle for trainer Rick Dutrow. The owner-trainer team won the 2008 Florida Derby with Big Brown  before the son of Boundary went on to race undefeated through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

Radiohead, who drew the far outside post, won two of six starts with two seconds in England last year for trainer Brian Meehan before being sold to his current owners. He finished seventh in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Nov. 7 in his American debut. The British-bred son of Johannesburg--Security Interest, by Belong to Me, kicked off his 2010 campaign with a strong performance Feb. 27 at Gulfstream, winning a seven-furlong allowance race by 3 1/4 lengths.

Also sure to get plenty of attention is Lael Stables’ homebred Lentenor , the highly-publicized full brother to Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby before suffering an ultimately fatal injury in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

Jockey Alan Garcia rides Lentenor for trainer Michael Matz. Lentenor, who breaks from post 2 and is 6-1 on the early line, will be tested on dirt for the first time after making his career debut on Polytrack at Keeneland in late October and three starts since on turf.

The son of Dynaformer out of the Carson City mare La Ville Rouge finished third first out Oct. 31, second on turf at Aqueduct in late November, and broke his maiden over the Gulfstream course Jan. 20. He came back with a runner-up effort as the favorite in an allowance race on Feb. 17.

Also at 6-1 on the morning line is Robert LaPenta's Miner's Reserve, who drew post 9 for trainer Nick Zito with Kent Desormeaux aboard. Miner's Reserve, a son of Mineshaft , opened some eyes at Gulfstream Feb. 27 when he romped to a front-running 5 1/2-length win over maidens in his second start.

LaPenta and Zito are also represented by uncoupled entry Ice Box  (15-1), who bids to improve on his fifth-place showing in the Fountain of Youth after breaking slowly and getting stuck five wide on the final turn. The Pulpit colt breaks from gate 8 and is reunited with Jose Lezcano, who rode him twice last year in New York.

Also looking for improvement following the Fountain of Youth are Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince (fourth) and Flying Zee Stable and Kona Stables’ Pulsion (sixth).

Pleasant Prince (15-1), trained by Wesley Ward, has dropped three in a row this year since breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs Nov. 22.

Pulsion (12-1) had five starts on synthetic tracks in Southern California last year, including a runner-up finish in Oak Tree's Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita in October. He displayed little rally after racing at the back of the pack in the Fountain of the Youth, his debut on dirt. Corey Nakatani replaces Mike Smith on the son of Include .

Donald Dizney's First Dude  gets support at 8-1 in his first stakes try for trainer Dale Romans. The Florida-bred Stephen Got Even colt has just a 2 3/4-length maiden win at Gulfstream Jan. 30 to show in four starts. But he was runner-up in his other three outings, including a hard-fought head loss to Fly Down in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race over the track Feb. 21.

Ol’ Memorial Stables and C.E. Glasscock’s lightly raced Soaring Empire , 20-1 on the early line with Eddie Castro aboard for trainer Cam Gambolati, could be the surprise package. He tuned up for the Florida Derby with a victory over a first-level allowance field at seven furlongs Feb. 25. It was his first start since finishing third in the one-mile Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs Nov. 1 following a winning debut at Monmouth Park in late September.

The son of 2003 Florida Derby winner Empire Maker  is making his fourth career start and his first around two turns. Ol’ Memorial owner Rick Pitino is the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals college basketball team that plays the California Golden Bears in the first round of the NCAA Tournament March 19 in Jacksonville.

Completing the field are Kuehne Racing’s Game On Dude (12-1) and Gary and Mary West’s Best Actor (20-1).

Game On Dude makes only the third start of his career for trainer Michael Mareina. The Kentucky-bred son of Awesome Again  broke his maiden by three lengths in a one-mile test at Gulstream last time out Feb. 27 and was second in his career debut going seven furlongs.

Best Actor is a Wayne Catalano-trained son of Rock Hard Ten who finished third behind Drosselmeyer in a 1 1/8-mile allowance test over the track on Jan. 31. Best Actor broke his maiden going a mile Jan. 7 by four lengths over the track.

$750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I, Race 11, 6:20 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Soaring Empire (KY), E. Castro, C. Gambolati, 20-1
2. Lentenor (KY), A. Garcia, M. Matz, 6-1
3. Pulsion (FL), C. Nakatani, P. Biancone, 12-1
4. Pleasant Prince (FL), J. Leparoux, W. Ward, 15-1
5. Game On Dude (KY), J. Rose, M. Mareina, 12-1
6. First Dude (FL), R. Dominguez, D. Romans, 8-1
7. Rule (KY), J. Velazquez, T. Pletcher, 5-2
8. Ice Box (KY), J. Lezcano, N. Zito, 15-1
9. Miner’s Reserve (KY), K. Desormeaux, N. Zito, 6-1
10. Best Actor KY), J. Castellano, W. Catalano, 20-1
11. Radiohead (GB), E. Prado, R. Dutrow Jr., 3-1


All carry 122 pounds.