March Madness and Hoop Mania may be in full-court press but I’m beginning to feel Kentucky Derby fever as we enter the far turn of the Derby trail with the 59th running of the $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
The Florida Derby has always been one of my favorite prep races on the Kentucky Derby Trail and with the defection of the marquee racehorse Eskendereya, this year’s contest is shaping into an interesting race with the potential for some nice handicapping action.
Several of the eleven horses entered in the Derby like to be on the lead or near the lead. The outcome most likely will boil down to the horse that gets the best trip and is the most fit.
Trainer Todd Pletcher won the Derby in 2007 with the 2-1 favorite Scat Daddy and this year he is looking for his second win with the 5-2 morning line favorite Rule.
Last October, Rule broke his maiden going gate-to-wire in a one mile maiden race at Belmont. Since then, Rule has recorded three straight victories going gate-to-wire including the Delta Jackpot (G3) and Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3).
Rule has a nice pedigree and despite the fact that all of his wins have been gate-to-wire, I believe that 9-furlongs should be well within his ability. Rule could be dangerous if allowed to get the lead in the Florida Derby.
Barbaro won the the 2006 Florida Derby for trainer Michael Matz who sends his younger brother, Lentenor (6-1), to the starting gate. In my opinion, Lentenor is not as good as Barbaro was at this point, but I believe that he has a shot to win the Derby.
Like Barbaro, Lentenor has raced primarily on the turf, but the transition to dirt should not be a problem and his bullet work March 15 indicates that he may be ready for good effort.
In addition to Rule and Lentenor, Game On Dude (12-1) and Soaring Empire (20-1) are a couple of real nice long shots that I will use in several of my wagers.
Lightly-raced Game On Dude steps up in class and comes into the race with a 3-length maiden win February 27. His Brisnet Speed Figures are pretty good and he has been firing bullets in his work outs. I also like Game On Dude’s pedigree and I don’t belive that 9-furlongs will be a problem. If Game On Dude can get a stalking trip, he could be a factor at the finish.
Soaring Empire is also lightly-raced and steps up in class. In his previous two victories, Soaring Empire made an impressive late move to get up for the win. Soaring Empire’s speed figures are competitive and his bullet work out March 14 indicates to me that he is ready to roll.
Miner’s Reserve (6-1), trained by Nick Zito, scored an impressive 5 ½ -length maiden win last out and I look for him to round out the bottom of the exotics.