The Florida Derby: A New Ballgame

John's Gone 1-for-3 On Wednesday & Thursday...
And is ready for both Friday and a big Derby Prep day on Saturday!

A NEW BALLGAME

I must confess that Rule was a John Piesen Hot Line release when he won the Delta Jackpot as the stick, and again when he won the Sam F. Davis as the stick.

But those were Grade Threes.

The $750,000 Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park is an altogether different ballgame. It's a Grade One...and at a distance (nine furlongs) that the front-running Pletcher colt -- the only graded stakes-winner in the field -- will be trying to negotiate for the first time.

Obviously, Rule will be a vulnerable favorite in the Florida Derby. The question is who will beat him. For the answer, you'll have to tune in to the JPHL, which has been hotter than the March Madness dogs. Look what I've done in the Derby Preps the last three weeks. Click here to get my Season of Piesen daily picks plus all the Derby Preps and the Kentucky Derby too.

Mar 13

Rebel

Oaklawn

Lookin At Lucky WON $4.20

 

Dublin

2nd Exacta $14.60

 

Noble's Promise

3rd Trifecta $27.40

Mar 6

Sham

Santa Anita

Alphie's Bet

WON $19.00

 

Setsuko

2nd Exacta $81.80

Feb 27

Battaglia

Turfway

Kara's Kitten

Out

Vow To Wager

WON $48.60

Codoy

2nd Exacta $247.20

True enough, Rule, who will break from the seven-hole under regular whippersnapper John Velazquez, is the only graded North American stakes-winner in the FD field of 11, but there is a laundry list of 3-year-olds capable of knocking him off.

Let's take a look...by post position:

SOARING EMPIRE's principal owner is a fellow named Rick Pitino, who may or not make the race, depending on how his University of Louisville basketball team fares Friday against California. Soaring Empire's trainer is Cam Gambolati, who calls the son of 1993 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker his best since Spend A Buck, his 1985 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year. Eddie Castro rides the Pitino colt, who is 2-for-3 lifetime, including a last-out sprint win over the track.

LENTENOR, a full brother to 2006 Florida Derby winner Barbaro, makes his stakes and dirt debut for the same connections -- Lael Stables and Michael Matz. He seemed to handle the dirt just fine last Monday when he drilled five-eighths in a bullet 1:00 at Palm Meadows. With Johnny V naturally going with Rule, Alan Garcia gets the call on Lentenor, who is 1-2-1 from four starts.

PULSION was a fast-closing second to Lookin at Lucky in the Norfolk last October at Santa Anita, but has since twice been beaten double-digits. Carl Lizza, the leading owner at the current Aqueduct meet, recently bought a piece of the Biancone trainee, one of no less than seven horses in the FD with only one victory on his resume. Mike Smith, who made the cross-country trip to ride Pulsion in the Fountain of Youth, this time is staying home at Santa Anita despite the fact that he has no call in the featured San Luis Rey. Corey Nakatani, the top rider at the current Oaklawn Park meet, subs for Smith.

PLEASANT PRINCE gets points for closing for fourth to Eskendereya at 50-1 in the Fountain of Youth, and is one of only two horses in the field to have run twice at nine furlongs. Ice Box is the other. Eclipse rider Leparoux takes the return call from trainer Ward on Pleasant Prince, who picks up six pounds off the FOY.

GAME ON DUDE blew the break in his second start, a mile maiden-special over the track, but still won by three as the 6-5 favorite. Jockey Rose has the return call from trainer Mike Mareina, who, of the 10 trainers in the FD, may be the only one who doesn't wind up in the Hall of Fame.

Jockey Dominguez gives up his usual seven favorites in New York to ride longshot FIRST DUDE for Dale Romans. The Dizney homebred has been no worse than second in four starts, and, like so many others in the field, has a license to shock the world.

ICE BOX comes off a better-than-it-looks-on-paper fifth for trainer Zito in the Fountain of Youth. The Pulpit colt was wide throughout from the 10-hole, and made a menacing five-wide move on the second turn before calling it a day. Lezcano replaces Bravo, who will be at Aqueduct Saturday for the favored Bickinsons in the Cicada, my favorite horse of all-time.

MINER'S RESERVE completes an uncoupled entry from Zito/LaPenta. Unraced at 2, the son of '93 Horse of the Year Mineshaft was a troubled fourth in his seven-furlong debut, then crushed maidens by five going a mile over the track. Jockey Desormeaux, who won the FD in '08 on Big Brown, has the return call.

A $230,000 Keeneland yearling, BEST ACTOR is the second priciest horse in the field to Pulsion (250K). The son of Rock Hard Ten has red-hot connections in trainer Catalano and jockey Castellano, but he appears overmatched, especially from post 10.

And last, but certainly not least, is English import RADIOHEAD, a recent purchase by the IEAH boys. See Big Brown. In his two starts stateside, the Johannesburg colt was a troubled seventh, beaten four lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and a three-length allowance winner going a mile over the track. Jockey Prado has the return call from trainer Dutrow. Radiohead will be the second choice despite post 11, which is 0-for-27 since the Gulfstream racetrack was reconfigured in 2005 from eight to nine furlongs.

(For those keeping score at home, post 12 during the same time frame is 1-for-44, the "one" being Big Brown).

The Florida Derby, which will be run as race 11 (at 6:20 p.m. Eastern), will be the fifth straight stake on the 12-race program, following the $200,000 Bonnie Miss (race seven);  the $150,000 Rampart (race eight); the $100,000 Appleton (race nine), and the $150,000 Swale (race 10).

The JP Hot Line, which has produced at least one winner per day for 18 of the last 19 days (an average day is three releases), will be up and running with 1-2-3 selections on all 12 races at Gulfstream on Saturday. Click here to get Saturday's full card or call my office at 1-888-612-2283.

Of note is the fact that Prado, after sitting out the first three stakes, will ride the odds-on D'Funnybone for Dutrow in the seven-furlong Swale, the only other stake this weekend on the Triple Crown trail.

Don't know if there is any significance to the fact that Paul Pompa Jr., the owner of D'Funnybone, is a regular at Nick's Barber Shop in Edison, N.J., and the placement  of an ad for a Nick's Restaurant below the Swale dope in Saturday's editions of Daily Racing Form.      
                 
Possibly of more importance is the fact that D'Funnyone, who will break from post seven in a field of nine, has won more North American graded stakes (three) than the entire Florida Derby field combined.

Dutrow will be trying to pull off a Swale/Florida Derby sweep...as will Pletcher with Ibboyee, and Catalano with Dixie Band.

Missing from the Florida Derby and Swale entries is Steve Asmussen, but the defending two-time Eclipse trainer will be a busy man at Oaklawn Park.

They will run 11 races Saturday in Hot Springs, and Asmussen will have a runner in all 11. What's more, Robby Albarado will be up from New Orleans to ride all 11,  including Eclipse finalist Hot Dixie Chick in the Prima Donna Stakes, and Riley Tucker in the Hot Springs Stakes.

For the record, the other Double A runners are, starting with race one: Lyin' Heart, Holy Humor, Remedy, More Than Global, Scoring Spree, Awesome Preacher, WW Conquistador, Heliotroplum and Fair City Man.

The over-under is 4 ½ .

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, and see you back here Tuesday for a look back at the Florida Derby, and other racing news.

22
Aug

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