A win in the Florida Derby, which is contested at 9-furlongs, would be the first for McLaughlin. Soldat already has two wins at that distance, including a win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), but he did that on the lead setting soft fractions and it will be interesting to see how he fares with speedy Hutcheson Stakes (G2) winner Flashpoint (6-1) also entered in the Derby.
Flashpoint is the game changer and from the handicapping point of view, the Florida Derby is shaping up to be a race that I would be tempted to pass on as there are too many unknown variables to make a good pick. Whether I make any wagers on this race will depend on how the horses look in the post parade and if I’m feeling lucky.
To Honor And Serve (4-1) is a horse that I’ve liked for some time now. I wrote about him in my 2011 Kentucky Derby Outlook and I would like to see him do well. However, in his 3-year-old debut, To Honor And Serve finished a disappointing third – beaten 6¾ - lengths by Soldat in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes (G2).
Like Soldat, To Honor And Serve likes to run on the lead and his running style could be compromised by the speedy Flashpoint. He also gets a jockey change to Garret Gomez which is also an unknown variable. If Gomez can get To Honor And Serve to track the leaders then he may have good shot at winning.
I really like the pedigree of To Honor And Serve and 9-furlongs or farther should be well within his scope.
Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes (G1), is the sire of To Honor And Serve and his grandsire is the Sire of Sires and 1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner A.P. Indy. To Honor and Serve’s damsire is the Canadian Hall of Fame thoroughbred Deputy Minister – Canadian and U.S. Champion 2-Year-Old Colt (1981) and Canadian Horse of the Year (1981).
To Honor And Serve should improve in his second start of the year and two bullet work outs since his last race indicate that he could be ready to run a good race. If the odds for To Honor And Serve stay at 4-1 or go higher, he may be worthy of a small wager.
Stay Thirsty (8-1) gets blinkers for the first time because trainer Todd Pletcher said he ran erratically in the stretch of the Gotham Stakes (G3). Despite that, Stay Thirsty won by 3¼ - lengths and earned a 95 Brisnet Speed Figure for that performance.
The blinkers may or may not improve Stay Thirsty’s performance. The Gotham was the 3-year-old debut of Stay Thirsty and he has room to improve off of that effort.
Stay Thirsty also has a pedigree that is made for distance racing. Stay Thirsty almost has what I refer to as a “V” pattern pedigree and that is when the sires on the sire line and tail-female line are Classic Champion Thoroughbreds. Bernardini, A. P. Indy, Seattle Slew, Roberto, Arts And Letters and Cavan are all Classic Champion Thoroughbreds.
Storm Bird, the damsire of Stay Thirsty, is a United Kingdom and Ireland Champion 2-year-old colt and the sire of Storm Cat and Summer Squall. Storm Bird is also the damsire of Thunder Gulch and Commentator.
The work outs for Stay Thirsty since the Gotham have not been that impressive. However, if Stay Thirsty looks good in the post parade and the odds stay at 8-1 or go higher, he may merit a small wager.
The shape of the race may be an ideal setup for Dialed In who likes to come from off of the pace. Dialed In has never been out of the money and he comes into the race with a narrow half-length loss in a 9-furlong optional claiming race with older horses last month at Gulfstream Park.
A bullet work out since that race could have Dialed In ready to run a good race.