Florida Derby Gridlock

FLORIDA DERBY GRIDLOCK
by John Piesen

Horse owner John Fort the other day had the best racing quote I've seen in years:"Everybody makes the mistake of saying races like the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby are preps for something else (the Kentucky Derby), Fort said. "In my opinion, I think of the Florida Derby as a destination, not part of a jpurney to get somewhere else."

The Florida Derby will be run on Sunday at Gulfstream Park, the Santa Anita Derby will go on April 9 at Santa Anita, and the Arkansas Derby is scheduled for April 16 at Oaklawn Park.

All are $1 million races, and, if history is your guide, the eventual Kentucky Derby winner will come from one of those three races.

In fact, the Florida Derby will be as tough to win as any 3-year-old race this year.The field includes Dialed In, the Holy Bull winner; Soldat, the Fountain of Youth winner; To Honor and Serve, the Remsen winner; Stay Thirsty, the Gotham
winner, and the Fort-owned Flashpoint, the Hutcheson winner.

Of course, the on-target Season of Piesen and John Piesen Hot LIne (888 612 2283) will be right on top of the Florida Derby, which has been moved from Saturday to Sunday, presumably to take advantage of the break in the Final Four weekend.

With one exception, the Florida Derby horses listed above are speed horses. That exception is Dialed In, who captured my particular fancy when he won first pop going six and a half for trainer Zito in mid-November at Churchill Downs.

A lot of other folks also put Dialed In on their Derby radar off that race, in which DI was left at the gate, and circled the field to win going away. The fact that he comes from the barn of a two-time Kentucky Derby winner (Strike the Gold and Go For Gin) raised the bar a little more...but truth be told that was two decades ago.

Meantime, Dialed In got his 3-year-old campaign off to a rousing start, rallying from last to win the mile Holy Bull at Gulfstream.

Nick then needed a two-turn prep for the Florida Derby, and chose a nine-furlong allowance over the Gulfstream track against older horses. One of those older horses, a stablemate named Equestrio, beat Dialed In, but DI made up 2 1/2 lengths on him in the final furlong to be beaten a diminishing half-length, improving his Beyer number 22 points in the
process.

But, more importantly, Dialed In needed to stay in contact in slow fractions. Conversely, in the Florida Derby, the pace will be sizzling, and Dialed In will have the opportunity to replicate Strike the Gold's on the 20th anniversary of Goldie's stunning last-to-first Florida Derby victory. At the time, Zito was quoted as saying, perhaps facetiously, that he needed to win the race in order to pay the feed bill. Hopefully, Nick's cash flow is a little better these days. Speaking of cash flow, mine is doing well at Gulfstream, with three exotics in Wednesday's Pick-6 and if you click here you can get with me for Sunday's Florida Derby and the Swale Stakes.

And, here's something else you need to know about Dialed In. In the Holy Bull, the runner-up, a colt named Sweet Ducky, was sold the following week to the Sheiks for major bucks. And stablemate Pants on Fire, who couldn't warm
up Sweet Ducky,last Saturday won the $1 million Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds...as the rabbit no less.

I expect that Dialed In, who has been working well at Palm Meadows, will uncork his stretch run in the Florida Derby. The question is: will he get there in time over the Gulf's speed-favoring sprint?

A lot depends on jockey Leparoux. This is a talented young rider, but he has yet to show he can win the big one. The Florida Derby is a big one.

Speaking of Leparoux, last Sunday he rode Astrology to a strong second-place finish as the favorite in the Sunland Park Derby in that colt's first race since November...but, at least at this point in time, Leparoux will be riding Dialed In at Louisville.

That means that owner Jackson and trainer Asmussen will need a rider for Astrology for the Kentucky Derby. And who better than Calvin Borel, who rode the same connections' Rachel Alexandra to Horse of the Year 2009, and who merely has ridden the winner of three of the last four Kentucky Derbys?

Yes, I know trhat, at this writing, Calvin's Derby horse is Elite Alex. But EA needs to run one-two in a potentially tough Arkansas Derby to have enough Derby dough. And trainer Ritchey is saying that he will just as soon run the Canadian-bred Elite Alex in the Queen's Plate rather than the Kentucky Derby.

That would leave Borel,who this week made the final cut for the Hall of Fame, incredibly a man without a horse for the Derby. More incredibly, Jerry Hissam, Calvin's long-time agent, insists that he hasn't had any feelers for the Derby. But you know that Calvin won't be watching the Kentucky Derby from the jocks' room. If CB is not on Astrology for Asmussen, it stands to reason that he would be riding Brethren for Pletcher.

Here's a possible scenario:

Dominguez will ride Brethren in the Arkansas Derby, leaving RD with a potential choice of Brethren or Stay Thirsty in the KD. Both are trained by Pletcher, who will be running the favorite, Uncle Mo. And since Calvin won the 2010
Derby for The Toddster on Super Saver, would it not make sense for him to ride half-brother Brethren in this time around?

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see where Borel's odyssey takes him in the next five weeks. Sure that we will be the first to know from ol' Jerry.

It will also be interesting to see what impact old friend Barry Irwin has on the Kentucky Derby.

In a previous lifetime, Barry lsbored as a boondocks reporter for Daily Racing Form. Fortunately, he saw the error of his ways, and wound up forming and operating a horse-buying and owning outfit which he named Team Valor Stable.

Barry has had many hits and misses with Team Valor, but now it appears he has a major hit in a 3-year-old colt named Animal Kingdom. Making his first stakes try last weekend, and only the fourth start of his career, Animal Kingdom looked like Silky Sullivan coming from dead-last to win the Spiral at Turfway going away under first-time rider Alan Garcia.

Unlike most Team Valor purchases, this one is a local -- hailing from the barn of the Chicago-based Wayne (The Cat) Catalano.

Yes, I understand that Animal Kingdom was beating a bunch of manes and tails in the Spiral, and the racing surface was synthetic, but this guy looks like a comer.

Certainly, at 40-1 or so, he's worth a play in the Derby.

Moreover, Irwin has a backup named Crimson China, this one bought in England. CC closed like a lunatic for a piece of the Rushaway on the same Turfway card, also with Garcia up.

Crimson China has insufficient funds for the Derby, but he'll be one to watch down the road.

Another one to watch is Sway Away. As the second choice to the victorious The Factor in the Rebel, Sway Away had
an awful trip, prompting jockey Gomez (also a Hall of Fame finalist) to jump ship. Now we find out that Sway Away lost a shoe at the start...which makes him a play on the "Lost Shoe Angle" in the Santa Anita Derby.

Sway Away closed a mere 17-1 in the second Chuchill Downs Derby futures...and will have to win the Santa Anita Derby just to make the race.

Meantime, here's the updated Piesen Derby Ten:

1. Uncle Mo: Will the Wood be a walkover?
2. The Factor: Can he get the 10 furlongs?
3. Dialed In: Florida Derby is make or break.
4. Premier Pegasus: The Santa Anita Derby favorite.
5. Soldat: Should sit the trip in Florida Derby.
6. Flashpoint: Fastest 3yo this side of The Factor.
7. Animal Kingdom: Looked the real deal in the Spiral.
8. Mucho Macho Man: Bad trip in the Louisiana Derby
9. Stay Thirsty: A pretty good second-stringer.
10. Sway Away: Toss out his Rebel performance.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be ready with action at Gulfstream all weekong long, and especially on Sunday with the Florida Derby and the Swale Stakes, so be sure to get with me.

19
Nov

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