Eleven horses were entered Wednesday for Saturday's $1-million Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, but the focus clearly was on two: Florida-bred Booklet and Harlan's Holiday.
The first time the pair met, in January's Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), Booklet went to the front and held off his rival. One month later, Harlan's Holiday made it closer in the gr. I Fountain of Youth Stakes but still could not catch the loose front-runner – Booklet won by a nose.
Now, Harlan's Holiday has a new rider – Edgar Prado replaces Tony D'Amico in the irons, -- an extra sixteenth of a mile and, with the late additions to the race of speedsters Smooth Jazz and Monthir, someone to keep Booklet company on the front end.
"I think we'll get him this time," said Harlan's Holiday's trainer Ken McPeek, "The extra sixteenth of a mile is all we need. And I was thrilled to have the extra speed in with him."
Morning line maker Chuck Streva agreed with McPeek, making Jack and Laurie Wolf's Starlight Stable's son of Harlan the 5-2 morning line favorite. Of drawing the two post, McPeek added, "I was hoping to be a little further outside, but he has enough tactical speed to be where he needs to."
Booklet's trainer John Ward indicated the additional speed in the race would not faze his runner. "It will add some confusion to the other riders who won't know if we're holding or we're going," he said, noting that he feels that Booklet has the ability to rate.
Booklet's owner John Oxley, whose Monarchos captured the Florida Derby last year en route to a Kentucky Derby victory, will be trying to join Calumet Farms – which did the trick in 1957 and 1958 with General Duke and Tim Tam – as the only owner tso win consecutive Florida Derbys.
"I used to just dream of betting on the winners for two years in a row much less winning it," he grinned, "I've been a fan of the Florida Derby for 40 years."
The Michael Tabor entry of Nokoma and Smooth Jazz – the latter an undefeated son of Storm Boot that Tabor purchased following a Jan. 23 win in the six-furlong Best Turn Stakes at Aqueduct – were installed as the 5-1 third choice.
John Velazquez has been named aboard both runners, leading to speculation that Smooth Jazz may instead opt to run in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (gr. III) also on Saturday.
At 8-1 for the 51st edition of the Florida Derby are both High Star and Blue Burner, the third-place finisher in the Fountain of Youth. Completing the field are D'Coach, Puck, Personal Reward, and Peekskill.
Field for the grade I, $1-million Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles:
1 -- MONTHIR, 122, Pat Day, 6-1
2 -- HARLAN'S HOLIDAY,122, Edgar Prado, 5-2
3 -- (a) NOKOMA,122, John Velazquez, 5-1
4 -- BOOKLET, 122, Jorge Chavez, 4-1
5 -- PEEKSKILL, 122, Jose Santos, 15-1
6 -- (a) SMOOTH JAZZ, 122, John Velazquez, 5-1
7 -- PUCK, 122, Cornelio Velasquez, 15-1
8 -- HIGH STAR, 122, Gary Stevens, 8-1
9 -- D'COACH, 122, Javier Castellano, 10-1
10 -- PERSONAL REWARD, 122, Eibar Coa 20-1
11 -- BLUE BURNER, 122, Jerry Bailey, 8-1
a - Michael Tabor entry
Purse distribution: 1st $600,000; 2nd $190,000; 3rd $100,000; 4th $60,000; 5th $30,000; 6th $20,000.
Stakes Time Record: 1:46 4/5 NTR, NWR (1957, Gen. Duke)