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2011 FLORIDA DERBY PREVIEW

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Today's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park is the 10th race on the card and will go to post at approximately 5:42 Eastern time.  The race can be seen live on HRTV, or you can watch on a live streaming feed at NTRA.com.  (NTRA.com LIVE).  Below is a quick, down and dirty look at the field of the $1 million Grade 1 Florida Derby.

1-Soldat (9/5): Since switching to dirt at the beginning of his three-year-old season, Soldat has been nothing but impressive.  He dominated his 2011 debut at Gulfstream in a very competitive N1X affair only to do it again a month later in the Fountain of Youth.  He's going to have a bit more company on the frontend in this race than in either of his last two race, but you wouldn't think that would be a problem based on some of his turf races where he was content to sit just off the pace early on. 

2-To Honor and Serve (4/1): Given the uneven performances of Mucho Macho Man and To Honor and Serve this spring, it's hard not to question the strength of that Remsen last November at Aqueduct.  It's possible that To Honor just needed a race following a lengthy layoff and that he'll be much better in this spot.  It's also possible that he'll be under a bunch of pressure early on from his outside (Flashpoint) and his inside (Soldat). Tough task ahead.

3-Arch Traveler (20/1): He looked pretty good winning the first two races of his career at Gulfstream in February, but things get a lot more difficult in this spot.  He's shown a desire to run on the lead in his previous races but I'm not sure that's the path to success in this spot give the abundance of classy speed surrounding him.  It's hard to envision a scenario where he's on top at the end.

4-Bowman's Causeway (20/1): This Ontario-bred son of Giant's Causeway really didn't run that bad in the Fountain of Youth when you consider the fact that he got jostled around a bit at the start.  That being said, he's up against it in this spot unless he's ready to employ some different tactics in the early stages; if he's willing to sit back early and make one-run in the stretch, me might have a chance.  I just don't know if that's the way he really wants to run.

5-Shackelford (20/1): This Dale Romans trainee is an interesting colt from a pedigree perspective as he's a half-brother to a couple of decent recent fillies: Baghdaria and Lady Joanne.  Both of his half-sisters were much, much better routing than sprinting and Shackleford, despite his poor performance in the Fountain of Youth, appears to be cut from the same cloth. 

It's tough to see Shackleford as the winner in this spot; he races most effectively when he's up front early and he'll have a couple of very fast horses to compete with if he tries that again.  He's yet to show he can come from more than a ½ length back which doesn't leave him much room for error against today's rivals. 

6-Stay Thirsty (8/1): A half-brother to Andromeda's Hero and Superfly, Stay Thirsty ran impressively in his last start when he won he Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.  Prior to that he finished 5th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and 2nd in the Hopeful last fall and he comes into the Florida Derby as a very consistent, hard knocking colt.  The Gotham was his first start off a five month layoff, so it's reasonable to expect a bit of improvement in his second start. 

Trainer Todd Pletcher feels like this colt needs some kind of chance as he throws the blinkers on for the first time, suggesting Stay Thirsty needs to find a bit more focus.

7-Dialed In (2/1): A disappointing 2nd when he faced older last time out, Dialed In needs to come up with a top 2 finish for his connections to feel secure about running in the Derby.  A son of Mineshaft out of a Storm Cat mare (Miss Doolittle), Dialed In does very little running in the early stages but he does appear to have the versatility to get into the race is Leparoux asks him.  In the Holy Bull he walked out of the gate, ran the first quarter in a pedestrian 25.78 and then got into the bit for a 21.58 split at the half-mile mark.  He didn't have much to chase after in his last effort and it would appear from watching his previous races that Dialed In likes to have a target a decent distance in front of him in order to put forth his best effort.  He should get exactly that in this race and a chance at a major win.

8-Flashpoint (6/1):It's a big ask of the outside draw to stretch his blazing speed from 7 furlongs to 9, but that's exactly what Richard Dutrow is asking of Flashpoint in today's Florida Derby.  Flashpoint's sire, Pomeroy, was a sprinter, and his dam, Two Punch Lil, won six races out of thirty in her career (all sprints) and she didn't hit the board in her only try at two-turns.  His siblings don't inspire any more confidence of two-turn success than his parents as none have won sprinting in North America.  He has two siblings that ran in Japan (Uncle Lee Sam and Yuwa Hurrican), but their record is a bit unclear.

Regardless, unless Flashpoint gets an easy lead all on his own and receives little pressure on the far turn (something that appears highly unlikely), I think he'll going to struggle to be in the mix in the final furlong.  Of course, he could do what The Factor did and simply run the field into the ground but this appears to be a tougher race to pull off that move.

The Pick

I've been a big fan of Dialed In this winter and I'm going to stick with him in this spot given what should be a good pace up front in the early stages.  He appears to run better when he gets a target well out in front of him and that is exactly what should happen in this spot.  It's not easy coming from well off the pace in any race, but if Leparoux can get him into good position on the turn (like he did in the Holy Bull), I think he's got the late kick to run down the top dogs at the wire.