It’s all roads lead to Gulfstream Park this weekend for Florida Derby day. The track has put on a sensational card with $2.3m of prize money up for grabs in Graded races alone. And, of course, at the top of the shop, race 14 (post time 6.48pm ET) is the Florida Derby, featuring the eagerly anticipated clash between Nyquist and Mohaymen.
However you dress this up, this is the contest we have been waiting for, the clash between two unbeaten heavyweights who are first and second in the Kentucky Derby market. Anything other than a win for Nyquist or Mohaymen would cause a seismic shock in the futures market for the “Run for the Roses”. For the Florida Derby market it is pretty much evens the two and name your price on everything else. In truth, the big 2 have frightened all the competition away and the remaining 8 starters have little to recommend them.
Both horses bring fantastic form to the table and it is difficult to split them. The advantage that Mohaymen has is that he is the local horse while Nyquist is shipping in from the west coast. In my opinion, this is not a betting race, let’s watch and enjoy and then work out if the form of this race will be franked when they meet on 7th May.
The three year old fillies also get a chance to strut their stuff in the Gulfstream Park Oaks over the slightly shorter trip of a mile and a sixteenth. 7 runners face the starter and the ML favorite is horse number 7, Off The Tracks. She brings an unbeaten record to the table having won all three of her starts. The issue is, these starts have been over 5, 6 and 6 ½ furlongs. She has won them with ease, by at least 3 lengths but will she go the extra turn?
The omens look good. She has joined the stable of Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velazquez, who both have a fantastic record in this race. Her pedigree (by Curlin) suggests that the trip will be no problem, in fact it is surprising how much speed she has shown so far. She has posted good Beyers and the opposition does not look strong so she may be able to win on class alone. The only real opposition comes from Gomo, who has to contend with a long layoff and Paola Queen, who also has stamina doubts.
The graded stakes races for the older horses are principally on the turf. The most valuable of these is the Grade 2 Honey Fox Stakes for fillies and mares over a mile. The great Bill Mott saddles Celestine and Lady Lara as he bids to record his 8th win in this prestigious race. Lady Lara holds the better credentials of the two having won last year’s renewal. The thinking was that she was able to take advantage of a very fast pace that day but she won the My Charmer off a slow pace and has shown she is in good form with a second to Tepin at Tampa Bay in February.
Todd Pletcher supplies the Morning Line favorite in Sandiva although this filly has been beaten by Lady Lara both last year and in the My Charmer. Sandiva has excellent turf form at this track but has never won on turf from 8 starts over a mile.
For those of you who like distance races, we have the Grade 2 Pan American Stakes over 1 ½ miles of the turf track. My idea of the likely winner of this race is Grand Tito. He won the Mac Diarmida at this course over 1 3/8 miles last time out beating the useful yardstick, Kaigun, by a comfortable 1 ¼ lengths and recording a Beyer of 104. This is his first race over the mile and a half but he looked extremely comfortable at the end of the Mac Diarmida. If he were to falter in the closing stages then Montclair, with his proven stamina (by Arc winner Montjeu), may be able to take advantage.
Before we close, let’s look away from Gulfstream and to Kentucky’s Turfway Park, which hosts a recognised Kentucky Derby trial in the $500k Spiral Stakes. The winner would also receive 50 Derby points, which would mean they would almost certainly qualify for the big race if connections wanted to take their chances.
This does not look a vintage renewal of the Spiral with some of the fancied horses having to prove themselves following poor recent performances. Airoforce had looked very useful following a win in the Kentucky jockey Club and a good run at the Breeders’ Cup. However, he ran a shocker last time out in the Risen Star, trailing in 10th behind Gun Runner.
Likewise, Ralis won the Grade 1 hopeful Stakes by over 5 lengths in September but seems to have regressed and has hardly beaten a horse home in three subsequent starts.
Maybe the answer lies with Jensen. He is an improving horse, versatile in his run style and represents a value price at the Morning Line’s 6/1. The downside is that his form is all on dirt and this race is on the synthetic polytrack surface. It looks a strange decision as there are plenty of dirt opportunities out there for Jensen. However, the horse’s trainer, Larry Jones is a great and very shrewd trainer. He has seen something in the horse’s profile that has encouraged him to take this route. It’s a bold decision but the race looks below par and the rewards are high.