As of March 16, the connections of Withers (gr. III) winner Alpha are still deciding what his next race will be. The March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park and April 7 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct are still the two most likely options, but the April 1 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds is now also in the mix.
Kiaran McLaughlin currently has the 3-year-old son of Bernardini training at Palm Meadows in South Florida. From that standpoint, it’s easier to run him in the Florida Derby, but he also is not excited about running into a monster named Union Rags.
“Union Rags is a nose from being undefeated. He’s a serious horse. I don’t like our chances of beating Union Rags. I don’t like running in races that I don’t think we can win,” said McLaughlin, who trains Alpha for Godolphin Racing. “I have that much respect for Union Rags, but then again Hansen is waiting up there (in the Wood), so it’s not going to be easy no matter where you go.
“He’s here and his training schedule doesn’t change. It’s just that he’ll probably work the morning of the Florida Derby if he’s going to New York instead of racing that day.”
Alpha, who currently has $180,000 in graded stakes earnings, may well need to finish first, second, or third in his next race to clinch a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). With news that Risen Star (gr. II) winner El Padrino will likely to run in the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby has even become somewhat of a possibility for Alpha’s next start.
“If El Padrino is going to the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby becomes a little bit easier,” McLaughlin said. “I have to talk to Simon Crisford about all of this, because he’s the racing manager.”
Alpha has won twice at Aqueduct this winter before shipping back to Palm Meadows to train for his final Derby prep. After winning the ungraded Count Fleet, he closed from off the pace to take the Withers by 3 1/2 lengths.
“He wasn’t beating Union Rags or racing against a Union Rags. We had a good spot up in New York and he ran well,” McLaughlin said. “But he’s doing everything asked of him. We’re happy. We just want to stay this way and get to the gate May 5th.”
The Florida Derby does have two strong points in its favor. It will give its participants five weeks to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, which McLaughlin prefers, and it will allow Ramon Dominguez to accept the return mount aboard Alpha.
“We obviously like (Dominguez). He’s 2-for-2 on him. He’s a great rider and he’s coming here to ride him if we run,” McLaughlin said. “If we don’t run and we go to the Wood, we have Javier Castellano on a hold for the race.”