Florida Derby, Swale Stakes Notes (March 14)

Edited from Gulfstream press release
It's All Gulfstream for Senor Swinger
Trainer Mickey Goldfine was putting the final touches on Senor Swinger Friday morning, just hours before the colt put his undefeated record on the line in Gulfstream Park's grade I Florida Derby. At $1 million, the 1 1/8-mile race is the richest prep in the nation for the Triple Crown.

Following the second renovation break, Senor Swinger jogged one mile in clockwise fashion, then galloped another mile the right way around the Gulfstream oval. Goldfine determined him to be ready, and declared that he would definitely start in the Florida Derby.

"We had thought about cross-entering in the race on Sunday in Tampa just in case, but we decided not to," he said, referring to the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). ""We're going to stay here. I spoke with (co-owner) Bob Ackerman last night and he said 'We've already come this far so let's go for it and roll the dice.'"

The dice have thus far come up with sevens and elevens for the son of 2002 leading sire El Prado. Senor Swinger won his debut by a widening 6 ½-lengths in December and then was tested for class and grit here in a January allowance race.

"You know, I think he was surprised when he got to the front that easily and saw nothing but blue skies ahead of him. But that other one is a really nice horse and he looked like he would go by before mine dug in," Goldfine said of Senor Swinger's dead-heat for the win with Ten Cents a Shine.

Edgar Prado, who will be aboard again for the Florida Derby, made his move near the three-eighths pole that day with Senor Swinger, a tactic that Goldfine expects to play out again on Saturday.

"I expect he'll be sitting about third or fourth and then make one run," said the trainer. "You already know how he loves to run at horses."

Florida Derby Pace on the Mind of Trainer Hiles

When Gulfstream ran the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) four weeks ago, the only horse that headed winner Trust N Luck at any point in the race was Midway Cat. The eventual third-place finisher that day was on even terms with Trust N Luck into the first turn before jockey Jorge Chavez got him to settle in second around the backstretch.

But if trainer Rick Hiles has his way, at the same point in tomorrow's Florida Derby his colt will be a few lengths off the lead. "I'd like him to be laying third with Jorge's feet sitting way up in the dashboard," Hiles said.

Like many trying to discern how the race will unfold, Hiles knows that such a strategy could backfire. "I'm concerned that Trust N Luck is the only speed, and having drawn the one hole you know he'll be going," said Hiles. "The question is how fast he goes and will he be pushed."

Serpe has Faith in Coa

Those same issues were not a concern to trainer Phil Serpe, whose lightly raced Formal Attire is the colt that many figure has the best chance of fighting Trust N Luck for the early lead.

"People get too much involved in handicapping how the race will play out like it's some kind of a golf tournament," he said, eschewing all talk of pace. "It doesn't matter if he's three lengths behind at the first turn. If he's good enough he'll be three in front at the wire."

"Plus," the trainer added as he huddled with Formal Attire's Florida Derby pilot Eibar Coa, "This guy here is not the leading rider for nothing. When the gates open he'll know what to do. I'm not worried."

One thing that had Serpe paying heed was the weather. As the clouds gathered to the east for a passing storm that moistened the Gulfstream track just after 8 a.m. Friday, he glanced at the darkening sky with a scowl.

"We're definitely watching the weather," he said. "I'm not sure how he'll handle an off track. He's only run on it once – back in his first race last summer at Saratoga – and it was his only bad race. But his undescended testicle might still have been bothering him then, so I can't say I'm sure."

Indy Dancer Hoping for Fast Florida Derby Pace

Those looking to find the blue and white silks of Wertheimer Farms in tomorrow's Florida Derby will know right where to look "I envision he'll be last in the early part of the race," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Indy Dancer. "But hopefully he won't stay there."

Indy Dancer, a son of the brilliant sire A.P. Indy who capped his Hall of Fame career by winning the 1992 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, is among the most confirmed late closers in the Florida Derby's seven-horse field. He used his brilliant late run for a last-to-first win in an allowance race here on Jan. 4, and Pletcher knows that he may require some assistance for a repeat of that effort.

"He'll need a solid pace – the faster the better," Pletcher said. Mentioning Formal Attire and Midway Cat, he added, "There are a couple in there that have the ability to look Trust N Luck in the eye early."

Following the win in his only Gulfstream try, Indy Dancer was installed as the favorite for the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at the Fair Grounds. His poor effort – he finished seventh in the only defeat of his three-race career – did have a single silver lining for the trainer.

"He put in a huge run about 100 yards from the wire, but by then the race was over and he was hopelessly beaten," Pletcher said. "I was glad I was there that day to see it, though. Other than that he got pretty well thumped on."

Pletcher's charges have not been thumped on much this winter. With 19 wins from 83 starts, he is the meet's second leading trainer. No one has captured more stakes at Gulfstream 2003 than Pletcher's six.

While he hopes Indy Dancer will make that seven, he feels that finishing first in the Florida Derby is not crucial for the colt's long-term prospects. "Obviously we'd love to win and we try to win whenever we're in a race," he said. "But this is a talented colt with a bright future, so as long as he does well we can go on to the next step and the one beyond that."

The steps he refers to are the April 12 Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) and then the big one, the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

And the trainer is well versed in what it takes to get there. "We know how important the Florida Derby has historically been in winning the Kentucky Derby," he said. "So we're following a well-traveled path."

Conservation Cutting Back to Sprint in Swale

While the Florida Derby, with a post-time of 4:18pm, is the centerpiece of Saturday's racing program, Gulfstream will also highlight promising 3-year-olds going seven-furlongs in the $150,000 Swale Stakes (gr. III).

And while that distance should suit Conservation, his trainer is not ready to concede that his runner is a sprinter. "Some trainers will tell you they know for sure, but I'm not ready to say that yet," Barclay Tagg said when asked about Conservation's distance preference.

The speculation arose due to a poor seventh-place finish when Conservation tried a route for the first time in last month's Fountain of Youth. But Tagg excuses that effort due to a wide trip. "It looked like the jockey (Jose Santos) wanted to get over to the rail and then he changed his mind, and then left him way outside the whole way," saidTagg. "When you leave a young horse out the whole way you don't know what they'll do."

In his previous outing, Bohemia Stable's gelded son of Tamayaz came from off the pace to capture an allowance race at the Swale distance. "He needs a few strides to get himself together and then you can pretty much put him anywhere," Tagg said. "He's a kind little horse."

And one the trainer still hopes will get a distance. "It is such a guessing game at this stage in their career – so many of them change as they mature," he said. I don't see any reason he can't go long, but for now we'll put him back at something he's done well at."