Fla Derby kicks off 35 day march to Kentucky

The Florida Derby (Race #10) is being run on a Sunday for the first time in its storied history and Gulfstream Park has assembled a terrific 12 race card.  Also included are three other graded stakes, the Swale as Race #3, the Appleton as Race #9, and the Skip Away as Race #9.  Let’s take a closer look at these graded stakes races along with the ungraded Sir Shackleton, a phenomenal overnight stake that features 3 graded stakes winners in an expected field of 8.

Race #3 – The Swale (G2) Post Time: 1:55 EDT

#6 TRAVELIN MAN looked to be the next superstar from the Todd Pletcher barn after cruising to a debut win back in January.  His ascent to the top of the 3YO sprint ranks was de-railed by Flashpoint in the Hutcheson and he’s now back to make amends for that failure as a heavy favorite.  Flashpoint hounded this colt from the start in the aforementioned Hutcheson but there is simply no horse in this field that can keep him honest early.  Look for him to take them wire-to-wire, and I’ll use Little Drama underneath as he should be wound a bit tighter in his 2nd start off a layoff.

Race #6 – The Sir Shackleton Post Time: 3:28 EDT

#8 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN was the best 3YO sprinter in the land back in 2009 as he took the King’s Bishop at Saratoga via disqualification in a campaign where he won multiple graded stakes races.  A chip in his knee kept him sidelined in 2010 and trainer Ian Wilkes is focused on getting him back to top form slowly, hence a start in this overnight handicap race.  His 2011 debut came in the Super at Tampa Bay Downs a couple of months ago and it was a workmanlike victory as a heavy favorite.  He certainly gained from that outing and will be very tough in the stretch today.  #6 SAFE TRIP ran a very strong race last time out to get the win after a sluggish beginning.  He has clearly improved for trainer Chad Brown after previously showing some potential.  Tactically he has an edge on a horse like ‘Candyman as he can stay a bit closer early and this is a great spot for him to be tested for class.  I’m going to use both in multi-race plays and box them in the exacta along with playing trifectas with Coffee Boy, Regal Ransom, Ibboyee, Our Edge, and Nathan’s H Q.

Race #8 – The Appleton (G3) Post Time: 4:33 EDT

Where did the great race #7 SUCCESSFUL MISSION ran last time out come from?  He was absolutely sensational from start to finish as he won a pace battle and hung around to win the war.  He has been successful in the past from off the pace, so if #1 LITTLE MIKE and #5 COMMANDEERED mix it up early this guy can make a move from a few lengths back.  #2 CHEROKEE ARTIST finished 2nd to Successful Mission in his last start and now goes 3rd off a layoff for trainer Graham Motion and jockey Ramon Dominguez.  He had no visible excuse in his latest outing but should be set for a big effort today given the expected pace scenario.  I’ll bet Cherokee Artist to win if he is at or around his morning line of 8-1 and play exacta boxes with Little Mike, Successful Mission and Riviera Cocktail.

Race #9 – The Skip Away (G3) Post Time: 5:06 PM EDT

It’s never fun to take the favorite in a bulky field like this but #4 COLIZEO looks like he’s going to be very tough in this field.  He stalked a solid pace in the Challenger last time out at Tampa Bay Downs before driving clear leaving the far turn.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who rode him to victory last fall at Belmont, is back aboard and he should have this guy close from the start.  #5 RON THE GREEK is an interesting horse to me as trainer Tom Albertrani has given him some time since he ran a dull race in the Donn two months ago.  He was a tad rushed to get into that race and ultimately proved that he is not Grade I caliber, something that matters not when dealing with a Grade 3 race.  There’s a good bit of speed in here and that could play into this guy’s hands, especially going 9.5 furlongs.  I’m going to play a main Colizeo-Ron the Greek exacta, reverse it for a bit less then play a $0.10 Super 4,5 with ALL with 4,5 with ALL (Total: $14.40)

Race #10 – The Florida Derby (G1) Post Time: 5:42 PM EDT

The complexion of this race changed a bit when trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. opted to start #8 FLASHPOINT here rather than the Swale on the undercard.  Flashpoint is a very talented colt who has shown tremendous sprint speed in a couple of starts in NY and here at Gulfstream Park.  He has drawn the outside post and will likely clear the field going to the backstretch.  Whether jockey Cornelio Velasquez can get him to relax and negotiate a half-mile that’s slow enough to help him stay the course remains to be seen.

My pick is #7 DIALED IN.  He’s another who has shown plenty of ability and I am not among those who jumped off the bandwagon after he failed in a N2X allowance race last month vs. older horses.  That prep was truly ideal as he was forced to race a bit closer to a sluggish pace before rallying down the lane.  He came up short to a solid older stablemate and lost nothing in defeat.  Today he’s back in against 3YOs and figures to get a tremendous pace setup thanks to the aforementioned Flashpoint as well as #1 SOLDAT, #2 TO HONOR AND SERVE, #3 ARCH TRAVELER, and #5 SHACKLEFORD, all of whom have some early zip.  Provided jockey Julien Leparoux can keep him interested early, just like he did in his last start, this colt will make serious noise in the lane.

To Honor and Serve is a candidate to rebound in here off of a poor effort in the Fountain of Youth as his dull run epitomized the meet trainer Bill Mott has had at Gulfstream.  This guy showed that he’s a good horse in consecutive graded stakes wins last November at Aqueduct and he probably needed a race the last time he went to the post.  I’m going to include him in my plays in the hopes that he will turn things around.

All-Stakes Pick 3 (Races 8-10): 2,7 with 4,5 with 1,2,7,8 (TOTAL: $16)

$0.50 Pick 5: 1,2,7 with 4,5 with 1,2,7,8 with 1,7,11 with 10 (TOTAL: $36)

$0.50 Pick 4: 4,5,10 with 1,2,7,8 with 1,7,11 with 6,8,11 (TOTAL: $54)

Best of luck with the Florida Derby day program at Gulfstream!  I’ll be back during the week in advance of Wood Memorial day at the Big A, the annual highlight of the spring meet.  Click here for my Sunday analysis for the 9 race card at Aqueduct.

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