Florida Derby Preview
IS FLORIDA DERBY THE TOUGHEST ONE YET?
It's a very light weekend for Kentucky Derby preps — really only one. But it might be the deepest prep of the season, with four of the top 10 horses in The Courier-Journal's weekly Derby poll (which will run a day later on Monday in the newspaper and online).
“It's the toughest prep they've run so far this year,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who is sending out Gotham winner Stay Thirsty.
The favorite: Soldat.
Biggest questions: Can any horse other than 2-for-2 Hutcheson winner Flashpoint be on the early lead? And if he is, can he still be in front at the wire?
How will Soldat react to racing behind horses on dirt? The Fountain of Youth winner (No. 2 in the C-J poll) rated nicely on turf. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin acknowledges it's a different game on dirt, where the kickback bothers some horses. Soldat has been in front his past two starts, but that appeared to be because nobody else wanted to be there. He's got the rail again. But look for Flashpoint to take the lead, even from his No. 8 post.
Can To Honor and Serve be effective racing off the lead? He won two stakes wire-to-wire last fall, but both had a pretty slow pace. To Honor and Serve settled behind the leaders in the Fountain of Youth and finished a bad third. But was that a matter of not being completely fit and mentally rusty off a layoff? Or is he happiest in front?
Note: For those who jumped off To Honor and Serve's bandwagon, he still ranks close to Soldat in Bloodstock Research's prime power, class ratings and speed at the distance.
How will Gotham winner Stay Thirsty react to racing in blinkers for the first time? Said Pletcher of the equipment change off a Grade III victory: “I don't like making changes. But when you see a horse not running straight going into a tougher race, sometimes it's better to be pro-active. He already has enough earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby. I didn't want to put blinkers on for the first time in the Kentucky Derby.”
In a race that should set up for him, how will stretch-running Dialed In react to having things go his way after encountering traffic or a slow pace in his three career starts?
They're due: The Centennial Farms syndicate, which owns Gulfstream allowance winner Arch Traveler, twice has been disqualified from major 3-year-old races at Gulfstream. Centennial owned minority interest in Will Farish's Lil's Lad, DQed from first in the 1998 Florida Derby for drifting out into Cape Town, who was awarded the victory. Corinthian finished first in the 2008 Fountain of Youth but was placed third for an erratic stretch run.