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Dunkirk may get a rabbit in the Florida Derby.
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Dunkirk May Get Rabbit in Fla. Derby

Trainer may also run maiden in race.

As intriguing as the Florida Derby (gr.I) already looks to be, it became even more intriguing when Todd Pletcher, trainer of Dunkirk, said Tuesday he is “strongly considering” running the maiden Europe as a rabbit, in order to prevent Quality Road  from getting loose on an easy lead.


So, it looks as if Pletcher will send out a $2.6 million rabbit for his $3.7 million star. Europe, who has only a well-beaten fourth in a five-furlong maiden race, in which he showed no early speed, to his credit, is by Unbridled's Song, out of a Storm Cat mare, and like Dunkirk is owned by the Coolmore connections of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. Both colts were purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale.


“We’re mindful of the lack of pace,” Pletcher said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Quality Road, and I don’t want to see a horse of that quality loose on the lead with slow fractions. We’d run Europe to make sure it’s an honestly run race. We’ll survey the field and see how it’s shaping up and make a decision at entry time.”


Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Quality Road, said he would rather not see a rabbit in the race, but he has no doubt his horse will settle off the pace if necessary, as he did in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II).


“If they do run a rabbit I don’t think my horse will tear off after him,” Jerkens said. "He’s fast, but he’s very ratable. He’s really laid back around the barn and in his training. In the Fountain of Youth, we didn’t want him far off the pace. We wanted him laying up close. But if we wanted him in middle of the pack he’d have no problem with that. Right from start he’s been a pushbutton horse. He can go slow if you want or fast if you want, and he’s made such great strides with each start.


“I’ve never run a rabbit, but if I had two horses owned by the same outfit and they didn’t mind sacrificing one of them, sure I’d use one in this instance. There’s a lot on the line.”

Pletcher realizes he’s asking a lot of Dunkirk, running him in the Florida Derby off two lifetime starts, but he’s confident the son of Unbridled's Song will be up to the task.


“We’re asking him the appropriate question because he’s shown us so much at this point,” Pletcher said. “It’s something we feel makes sense. I’ve been saying for years that these trends are going to change and many of them already have. People aren’t running their horses that frequently at this level. You’ve had horses win the Derby off five weeks, and Big Brown  proved you can win the Derby not only off five weeks but with only three career starts.”


Pletcher said that Sham Stakes (gr. III) runner-up Take the Points likely will be pointed for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), unless one of the two big horses -- Pioneerof the Nile  and The Pamplemousse -- drops out of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Take the Points needs to finish second in either race in order to get enough earnings to make the Derby. Pletcher also said that his exciting maiden winner Affirmatif will make his next start in an allowance race at Keeneland.