Staff Picks: 2012 Florida Derby

It's time for our second installment of "Staff Picks", featuring the return of TFTribe! Last week, JP and Jared provided some great analysis of the Spiral Stakes. This week's race is the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (Post time: 5:40pm Eastern; TV: NBC Sports Network). Jared, JP and TFTribe (Welcome back!) have once again put together some great thoughts on the clash between Union Rags and El Padrino.

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Fort Loudon L. Jarado S. Gold 20/1
2 News Pending R. Maragh D. Romans 8/1
3 Take Charge Indy C. Borel P. Byrne 5/1
4 Neck 'n Neck E. Prado I. Wilkes 20/1
5 Z Camelot J. Bravo D. Romans 50/1
6 Union Rags J. Leparoux M. Matz 6/5
7 Bartolome J. Castanon J. Garoffalo 30/1
8 El Pardrio J. Castellano T. Pletcher 2/1
9 Reveron E. Truijillo A. Bezara 12/1

TFTRIBE:

I see this race shaping up one of two ways:

1) Reveron and News Pending make for the lead. Union Rags and El Padrino stalk about 3 back. Borel sits Take Charge Indy down behind Rags and EP down, surprise, on the rail. Rags and EP are by far the best and duel into the stretch, and Take Charge Indy takes third, as he has the shortest trip and just prays for daylight on the rail coming into the stretch. Union Rags wins, El Padrino places, and Take Charge Indy shows.

2) Everyone shies from the lead in an attempt to make Union Rags and El Padrino run themselves out of it. But they are by far the best and still manage to run away from the field. I doubt any connections are foolish enough to buy into this tactic. In this scenario Union Rags wins, El Padrino places, and Neck N Neck shows.

That being said, in order of finish:

6- Union Rags: By far the best horse here, and that's no slight on his main competitor, El Padrino. Union Rags is really special. In the Fountain of Youth (G2) he was dominant and looked in perfect form. In fact (if I remember correctly) he coasted across the line, so the speed figure is probably a little lower than it should be. The Florida Derby is only a furlong further on the same surface, so provided he's 100% healthy, and there's no reason to think he's not, he should win it.

8- El Padrino: I love this colt. I just don't see him beating Union Rags. He's shown he's a tough runner, able to split horses as well as duel with them, as he did with Mark Valeski when he beat him by a nose in the Risen Star (G2). I see him running right off of Union Rags for the duration of the race, but just unable to stay with the stretch drive of Union Rags. I'd imagine Castellano wants to keep him just inside of Union Rags to make Rags come wide into the turn to try to get every advantage he can, since they have the same running style.

3- Take Charge Indy: Hasn't run in three months, but has been putting in solid 5f works at Gulfstream over the past 30 days, to include one bullet at 4f. With Borel on board, who is familiar with him (and most likely is aboard for his works as well), you know that the intent is to put and keep him on the rail. Knowing that the pace horses will be weary coming into the stretch and Union Rags and El Padrino will be stalking the pace on the outside, you can assume that Indy will have a nice hole to shoot through, and with Calvin, it doesn't even have to be a horse wide. I'm putting him here mostly based on the fact that he'll run the shortest race by quite a bit.

2- News Pending: Only lost by 4 lengths to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth (G2), but even that is deceiving, since it wasn't that close. Despite that, he's a solid colt who will want the lead, but just won't be able to hold it with the dual threat of Rags and EP breathing down his neck. I think he holds on for part of the Super, but isn't in the real money.

4- Neck N Neck: Wants to close hard, but the front end speed just isn't enough to wear out Union Rags and El Padrino to the extent this colt needs. Makes a run at the end, but doesn't get close. May catch News Pending, but that's about it.

9- Reveron: Front end speed, but will not be able to outlast the best of the race. No chance to finish in the money.

1- Fort Loudon: Has changed running styles since moving into Graded Stakes company, but with no success. That says to me that this colt just doesn't have what it takes to run like he wants to against elite company. No shot.

5- Z Camelot: Maiden. Too much class in this race to really let Z Camelot into it. Take Union Rags and El Padrino out of it? Maybe, but at that point it'd be a complete chaotic mess, which is what this maiden would need to win.

7- Bartolome: Only win was in the slop as a 21-1 underdog. No chance here. Has been consistently 3rd-5th in his other starts, but those are UnGr Stakes or OC Allowance races. Completely outclassed in this race.

What I'm betting:

Exacta: 6/8 over 8/3/2.

Either Union Rags is going to win, or he's not finishing in the money. Either the 3 or the 2 should have sweet enough odds to make this worth it. Bet is pending how the final odds shape up. If I don't get something near 10-1 on one horse to place, I won't make this one.

Win: Take Charge Indy.

He's going to go off at quality odds. Union Rags and El Padrino will probably both go off at even money or less.

Can't wait for Saturday. Dubai in the morning. The FL Derby at 5:40PM while Louisville plays UK (go Cards) followed by Kansas - Ohio State at 8 PM. What a day. My DVR is going to be busy.

JARED L. CHRISTOPHER:

1. Union Rags
2. El Padrino
3. News Pending
4. Reveron

Analysis:

Union Rags - the big bay colt should be a perfect 5 - 0 if not for a serpentine trip down the home stretch in the BC Juvenile last fall. With new rider Julien Leparoux aboard for the Fountain of Youth, Rags answered all questions with a four length win despite being hand-ridden throughout. His explosive stretch run should prove too much to handle for any of his competitors in the Florida Derby.

El Padrino - won the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in his last outing. Trainer Todd Pletcher is still looking for his big horse for the 2012 campaign and El Padrino appears to be reaching for that title. His latest works have the looks of a horse that is maturing at the right time. Expect to hear his name in the stretch drive.

News Pending - the Dale Romans trained colt already has three races at 1 1/8 miles under his belt so the distance should not be a problem. Finished a well beaten second to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth. News Pending will see if "the Rags" can hold that lead another 1/16 mile. Rajiv Maragh will replace Kent Desormeaux aboard News Pending. Romans brought Shackleford into form in last years Florida Derby. This is one to keep your eye on.

Reveron - will be asked to go farther than he ever has up to this point. One thing is certain; he has never finished out of the money. Also, Elvis Trujillo will be aboard Reveron for the first time. I can't see him getting by the top pair but he appears to be a very tough horse with a strong will. He will have to continue to improve if he wants to hit the board but that is what 3 year olds do this time of year.

The Pick:

Union Rags appears to be the real deal. El Padrino should prove a worthy foe but won't measure up in a duel down the stretch. Add News Pending and Reveron to the pick for a healthier payout.

Long shot:

Reveron should find himself near the lead around the far turn. If he digs deep he may be able to discourage Union Rags when the two hook up down the stretch.

JP FANSHAWE:

It's hard to believe that the first Saturday in May is creeping up on us, and that only a handful of major prep races for the Kentucky Derby remain. The Florida Derby, of course, is one of them, and this year's edition doesn't include a single "E" horse, that is a horse who likes to press the pace up front. That interests me because, as we all know, the Kentucky Derby has recently evolved into a cavalry charge/speed duel that sets up a closer, so this Grade 1 at Gulfstream might not point toward a Derby contender. Let's take a look.

1-Fort Loudon: What I Like: Colt has run in some classy races his last three, and has been running in stakes for his last six races after a maiden-breaking 10-length win at Calder last July. He is fifth in BRIS speed figure average (SFA), and third in earnings per start, and the only time he has seen a sensible pace (each call at par), he won a seven-furlong non-graded stakes. What Worries Me: Even though he is fifth in SFA, he has never run higher than a 97. The par is 107, and you are usually safe throwing out any horse than hasn't run within 7 of par. Still we are talking three-year olds who can suddenly mature, and he has a respectable works pattern. He is 0-for-2 on this track and trainer Gold is just 6 percent winning and 17 percent in-the-money in graded stakes.

2-News Pending: What I Like: Horse was four lengths off of Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth, but the comment "Pressed, no match" might say it all. What could be different today? He is third best in late pace, and has managed seconds in his last two despite both races being far below par times. An average pace might suit him. Romans and Maragh team for a 20 percent clip winning, and 57 percent in-the-money. What Worries Me: Another one that has never run within 7 of par, and actually is coming off a career high of 99 in his last. Fear the bounce? Still, there is no way I leave this one out of exotics.

3-Take Charge Indy: What I Like: Classy horse who may be rounding into form. Got a sensible pace in his last out, an OC 75k where he was two lengths worse than El Padrino over this same course. Works are excellent, with four since his last race, and three of them rating as sharp. Colt will probably live up to his name, taking charge out of the gate, as he holds the top figures in both early and middle pace, and third in SFA. Fourth in earnings per start. What Worries Me: Ran a best-ever 109 last out. Fear the bounce, but maybe a little less so, since he has had a freshening since that race. Trainer Byrne is 0-for-6 in graded stakes, and 0-for-23 coming of a 46-90 day break. Borel is also mired in slump, winning just 4 percent of his mounts.

4-Neck 'N Neck: What I Like: Didn't get that clean of a trip in the Fountain of Youth, and still managed to improve position. His maiden-breaker was a race that featured a pedestrian pace like the one he might see here. Works are excellent, as the last three have been sharp, and consistent breezing 5 furlongs in 1:101 and 2 each time. As a closer (4th best in late pace), he really has only gotten pace to run at just once, and in that race he moved from 9th 10 lengths back, to 4th beaten 5. If somehow these horses should go too fast he would be logical to hit the board. What Worries Me: Another that doesn't fit on speed par, having run a high of just 95, 12 below par. Wilkes has average numbers in stakes, routes, and dirt starts, varying between 13 and 16 percent. Prado is 0-for-5 his last five for Wilkes.

5-Z Camelot: What I Like: Hmmm. The horse is coming off of triple turf races, so perhaps a return to dirt might be of help. Romans and Bravo for Zayat Stables....these aren't no-names. What Worries Me: Horse has twice run an 86 BRIS speed figure, a scant 21 points off the par, has never won a race, is last in SFA, dollars, early, middle, and late pace. Baffling as to why he is in here, so maybe Romans knows something we don't, and maybe I'd agree if his three works weren't also middling.

6-Union Rags: What I Like: Plenty of class in his last four starts, and plenty of success against that class, as Union Rags has been beaten only once in five starts and that loss only a head. He has demonstrated in his last two that his high cruising speed can take on slow races like the Fountain of Youth, and pace showdowns like the Breeder's Cup Juvenile. When he was given sensible paces in his second and third starts, he demolished fields in the Champagne, and Saratoga Special. Clearly, he will be many people's choice, if for no other reason, he has the kind of name one can see on the side of Derby Julep glass. Colt is tops in SFA, and earnings per start, second in early, middle, and late pace. What Worries Me: Matz is only winning 7 percent of his graded stakes, from a rather large sample of 122 races, however, this is the present star of his barn.

7-Bartolome: What I Like: Colt has run the distance at this track and hit the board. Maiden-breaker was dominant. Castanon has brought home some huge prices for trainer Garoffalo, who has one of his four graded stakes this year and it was a longshot bomb, just like this one would be. What Worries Me: Yet another that doesn't fit on speed par, having peaked in his first ever race with BRIS speed fig of 88. Garaffolo is just 8 percent coming third off the layoff, works aren't blazing, and the last time this horse was in with El Padrino and Take Charge Lady, he finished 27 1/2 lengths back, and that race had a par pace like this one may. No where in any of the numbers I look at.

8-El Padrino: What I Like: Probably everybody's second choice. The only other horse in here that has run the distance, finishing third in the Remsen. Also has a winning start at Gulfstream. Best number by 11 points in late pace, so I like him to coming on strong at the end. Pletcher, as usual, has some ridiculous numbers: 25 percent 3rd off a layoff, 26 percent coming a winner last out, 19 percent in graded stakes, and 42 percent (!) when teamed with Castellano in the last 60 days. Works are good, and I especially like the back to back sharp efforts on the March 12 and March 18, followed by a middling effort a week ago. Horse is second in SFA, dollars, early, and middle pace, and tops in back speed off the 111 BRIS speed fig he ran two back. I also love it when a horse bounces, as he did off that 111, and then still wins his next (he ran a 101 in the Risen Star and prevailed by a nose). If he runs back to that top fig, this race is his. What Worries Me: Not much, if we are talking about hitting the board. The only thing I wonder about really is the pace. It looks like it should be near par, but if the Take Charge Indy should hustle out and Union Rags and El Padrino take the bait and perhaps go too fast, I wonder if it might not set up for one of the horses who won't be rating near the front like I expect those three to be.

9-Reveron: What I Like: Horse has never finished worse than third, and may be growing up. His works excite a bit, as he has essentially run bullets in his three - an angle I love in stakes races. He has started and won over this course, and eeks his way into four of the metrics I compile, always in the fourth or fifth whole. What Worries Me: Another that doesn't fit on par, having a best ever BRIS speed fig of 98 two back, but I might be able to over look that as he bounced off that effort and was still a decent third beaten 1 1/4 in a stakes, and he has those sharp workouts to suggest a chance for great improvement. Trainer Bezara is 0-for-3 blinkers off, 0-for-1 in his only stakes effort this year.

On paper, this race should go to form, with Union Rags and El Padrino rating off of Take Charge Indy, then breezing past him at the top of the stretch and dueling down the lane (wouldn't it be great if we could have a rivalry between top horses this year?). If that is the case, I favor El Padrino. On track, who knows? The contest player in me will be leaning toward News Pending and Reveron.

Top Selection: El Padrino.

Alternates: News Pending, Reveron.

Scared to Death Of: Union Rags.

Good Luck!

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