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Florida Derby Preview

It's the first Grade 1 race of the spring for three year old colts and it carries with it a $750,000 purse, including $400,000 to the winner.   Even more enticing, taking the top prize in this year's Florida Derby provides the winner with a one-way ticket to the starting gate at this year's Kentucky Derby.

The Florida Derby has produced several winners of the Kentucky Derby over the last ten years: Monarchos in 2001, Barbaro in 2006, and Big Brown in 2008.  Ironically, both Barbaro and Big Brown won this race from wide post positions and are among a select few to win from an outside draw at this distance since Gulfstream reconfigured their track in 2006.  What's that mean for the player going forward?  Only this, if you are going to pick a horse to win going wide they will need to be much better than the rest of the field, like Barbaro and Big Brown.

Let's take a look at this year's field.

1 - Soaring Empire (20/1): A son of Empire Maker (winner of the Florida Derby in 2003) out of an A.P. Indy mare, this colt should have no problem getting a mile and an eighth in his first try around two-turns.  He exiting a decent allowance race...but it's still just an allowance race; he's going to find a much tougher field in this spot.  Soaring Empire went up against Thiskyhsnolimit and Uh Oh Bango in the Iroquois last November at Churchill Downs where he finished a fading 3rd.  That field also included the promising Dublin, so there's a little bit of back class in his corner.  Additionally, the rail shouldn't be a huge problem since Castro will likely take him back and make one run coming into the far turn. 

Below are links to video replays for Soaring Empire's last two races:

Feb. 25th, Gulfstream Race 8
Nov. 1st, Churchill Down Race 10

2 - Lentenor (6/1): By far the most intriguing runner in this year's field, although it's difficult to envision him as the likely winner.  Lentenor, the second full brother to Barbaro, will make this dirt debut after a race over the Poly at Keeneland and three turf starts.  For all the challenges he'll face in this race, at least he draws inside which should allow him to save valuable ground while going into the first turn.  And he does have a nice bullet work at Palm Meadow on March 15th that adds some polish the resume.  But he's being asked to do a lot considering he's yet to beat winners and when you compare Lentenor to 6-First Dude it's difficult to see how he'd have a better chance than the 6 horse. 

He's a sentimental favorite but probably won't represent very good value on the tote board.

Below is a replay from his last race:

Feb. 17th, Gulfstream Race 8

3 - Pulsion (12/1): Another colt that's never beaten winners, Pulsion has had a real rough go of it his last two times out.  He tried the Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he was summarily trashed by 10 ½ lengths, followed by a dreadful performance in the Fountain of Youth on February 20th where he was beaten by 12 ½.  To be fair, Eskendereya beat everyone badly that day so the beaten lengths are a little exaggerated.

Both of Pulsion's last two races featured slow pace situations which will generally compromise any horse that prefers to close like he does, so perhaps he had an excuse for his poor performance.  On the other hand, I don't think you can toss those two races just because he didn't get the perfect pace set-up since that is always a risk with closers.  Additionally, this is a colt that has run all of his best races out in California over synthetic tracks and who showed nothing in his first attempt on dirt.  If he gets a better pace to run at things could turn around for him but it appears he's really going to need a lot of help on the front end.

4 - Pleasant Prince (15/1): This colt has worked like a champ over the Gulfstream surface following his 4th place finish in the Fountain of Youth.  Another entry that has never beaten winners, Pleasant Prince finished second to Ice Box by a half a length in an N1X event at Gulfstream back on January 18th.  The best thing you can say about this colt is that he's got a pretty versatile running style - in that N1X race he stalked the pace while in his maiden breaking victory he came from off-the-pace to score. 

At 15/1 on the ML he might warrant a shot in the exotics.

5 - Game On Dude (12/1): The first of the two "Dude" horses, Game On Dude enters this race fresh off of breaking his maiden at this track on February 27th.  He went a one-turn mile that day and will be asked for quite a bit more in this spot.   Game On Dude wants to be up front with the leaders early on and could provide a bit of a pace companion for the favorite.  However, it's going to be a lot to ask of this colt to run with Rule all the way around the track. 

6 - First Dude (8/1): When I first looked at the past performances of this colt I immediately thought they looked a lot like those of Lentenor, except that the races took place on dirt instead of grass.  Like Lentenor, First Dude took a few tries before breaking his maiden and then ran a strong second against N1X competition his last time out.  He's also displayed a nice stalking style in every one of his races.

Check out his race back on November 28th, his second try against maidens.  The winner, Fly Down, came back to win an allowance race at Gulfstream.  First Dude won his next start, also at Gulfstream.  Third place horse, Down With Dixie, scored in a MdSpWt at next asking at the Fair Grounds.  Fifth place horse, Psychic Income, won a $75k maiden claimer at Gulfstream, and the sixth place horse, In the Paint, won a MdSpWt at Turfway.  An impressive five next out winners came out of that single race.    

Of the horses in here that have yet to beat winners, First Dude appears to have the sharpest resume.  He's experienced around two turns, he faced some decent company, he's displayed an ability to run on conventional dirt, and he's run a good race every time he's stepped foot on the track. 

At 8/1, First Dude could represent some excellent value on the board.

7 - Rule (5/2): One of Todd Pletcher's star three year olds, Rule has won four straight races including the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot and the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis.  And all four of those races have been won in exactly the same fashion: gate to wire.  He'll have an excellent chance to make it five in a row on Saturday as he draws into a field that doesn't appear to feature any other dominate speed. 

If you're looking for any holes in the armor of the favorite you could focus on a couple of items.  First, his win in the Sam F. Davis came over the sometimes quirky Tampa Bay Downs dirt track; he may or may not take to Gulfstream in the same manner.  Second, that Sam F. Davis field doesn't look quite as good now after the results in the Tampa Bay Derby where Schoolyard Dreams and the rest of the field absolutely fell apart in the stretch.  If you're of the belief the Rule hasn't beaten anybody then you could determine that he's vulnerable in this spot.

8 - Ice Box (15/1): Broke poorly in the Fountain of Youth and it was pretty much all over from there as he found himself well back of the leaders early on, something he'd never experienced before.  A better break would do this colt a world of good in a race where he might be able to get a nice stalking trip right behind Rule. 

Zito blew him out over at Palm Meadows on March 13th (fastest of 30 at 4f that morning) so he looks like he's tightened up and ready to fire.    There's a lot of value in his corner.

9 - Miner's Reserve (6/1): Has received a bunch of hype following a flashy maiden score at a mile back on February 27th.  He earned a big figure that day (94) and will attempt to go two-turns for the first time in this race.  Miner's Reserve has a bunch of early speed in his corner, and he's going to have to use it from the 9 post if he's to have any chance of putting himself in a good position heading into the first turn. 

If there is a horse that could challenge Rule on the front end, this might be the one. 

Below is a replay from his maiden breaking win.

Feb. 27th, Gulfstream Race 4

10 - Best Actor (20/1): Wayne Catalano's colt has really found his game since switching from synthetic surfaces to dirt last fall and recently finished a solid third to Dosselmeyer and Prince Will I Am in an N1X race at Gulfstream back on January 31.  Both of those horses came back to run so-so races next time out so the jury is a little undecided as to where this one fits on the class ladder.  Additionally, his post position isn't doing him any favors and he's likely to be three or four wide heading into the first turn unless Catellano guns him to the front.  Neither of those scenarios are really optimal for winning this race but at 20/1, he may be worth a shot depending on how you think this race will unfold.

11 - Radiohead (GB) (3/1): The "Awful Post Position of the Day" award clearly goes to this Dutrow trainee who finds himself in no man's land with the widest drawn in the field.  A big plus in his corner is the early speed his showed in his last race at Gulfstream, something he absolutely must show today on Saturday in order to have any chance.  Prado's won this race from a wide post before (Barbaro in 2006), so he knows what it's going to take to get this colt into position.  However, as pointed out in the beginning, unless your name is Big Brown or Barbaro, horses have struggled to win from this post at this distance since the reconfiguration of the track.  It's not impossible, just difficult. 

If Radiohead wins from out here the hype machine will be in full force...and it will be completely justified.

Below is the video replay from Radiohead's last race.

Feb. 26th, Gulfstream Race 3

Final Analysis

Rule is going to be bet hard off of his last race while Lentenor will probably get bet due to his name and story.  If that happens, First Dude and Radiohead might get overlooked on the board.

We'll have to wait an see how the board looks before post time, but I like First Dude for the upset and possibly an exacta with Radiohead.