The 138th Kentucky Derby
may lack a Florida bred in the starting gate, but do not discount the importance the Sunshine State played in assembling this year’s talented field. Forty-five percent of this year’s starters’ Road to the Roses journey either began or went through Florida. If you include My Adonis, the “also eligible” entrant, then that runs the numbers to 10 of 21 possible starters having raced in Florida before making their way to Churchill Downs
. With incredibly mild temperatures and beautiful weather, Gulfstream Park
and Tampa Bay Downs
were certainly the places to be this winter. So who raced in Florida and how did they fare? Here is a recap of your Kentucky Derby starters whose journey began in Florida.
The son of A.P. Indy made a name for himself while wintering in Florida. In his first start of the season, he finished second in an allowance optional claiming race behind fellow KY Derby entrant El Padrino. His next start was the illustrious Florida Derby, a race in which he hooked up with Mr. Derby, Calvin Borel. The rest is history. In front-running fashion, Take Charge Indy took home the winner’s share of the million dollar purse, perhaps aided by the notorious race riding taking place behind him. Union Rags rallied late but could do no better than third, and El Padrino ran fourth. With Borel receiving the return call, Take Charge Indy’s morning line odds of 15-1 look to drop significantly due to the Bo-Rail factor.
Everyone’s darling started the year off right with an impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes
against weaker competition. Going into to Florida Derby, he was the post time favorite. However, he was hemmed in for nearly the entire race and did not have enough room left to finish his rally when he was finally able to break free. He was installed as the Kentucky Derby's second favorite on the morning line, but, as you can see, those of us as HRN
disagree with the oddsmaker.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet this colt in person (horse?), and he is one good looking colt. In his first start of the year, four months after running 4th in the BC Juvenile, Dullahan ran a strong second to Howe Great, a turf specialist, in the Palm Beach Stakes. He built on that solid performance at Keeneland, blowing past Hansen and the rest of the field to earn the win in the Blue Grass Stakes. Many are unsure whether Dullahan can transfer his form to conventional dirt since both of his wins have come on Keeneland’s polytrack, but this is a colt that has vastly improved since the BC Juvenile. With a solid pace anticipated in the Derby, I expect that Dullahan will be firmly in the mix at the wire. He is my pick to wear the roses.
Talk about longshots! This colt has never raced beyond 7 furlongs, but put him in a 7 furlong race and he is impressive. I saw his Swale victory in person, and, let me tell you, no one was catching him that day. Along with most others, I expect he will be part of the pace scenario on Saturday, but I also expect that he will not want to go beyond a mile.
Of all the colts that began their journey in Florida, Prospective without a doubt had the easiest journey. Once he crosses the wire, his connections will either commend themselves for their chosen path or regret not giving their colt a taste of competition before arriving in Kentucky. The Malibu Moon colt won both the Pasco Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby and finished a solid second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. By the time he arrived at Keeneland for the Blue Grass, a win was not necessary because he was already guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate.
Went the Day Well’s start at Gulfstream was quiet. Both of his starts came in maiden special weight races. What this colt does have going for him is a good dose of karma. He shares the same connections and took a similar path to Churchill Downs at last year’s Derby winner Animal Kingdom. If you are the superstitious type, then this may be the colt for you.
Last year’s juvenile champion had a disastrous start at Gulfstream. In his only start in Florida, the nearly white colt stumbled coming out of the gate in the Holy Bull, picked himself and stormed to the lead, only to tire late in the game on a muddy track. In his next start, fans were finally able to see a new dimension in the colt who loves to be on the lead. After narrowly avoiding the rail in the draw, Hansen drew spot 14, outside of both Trinniberg and Bodemeister. I see his race developing in one of two ways: if he is rank like he was in his most recent work, then he will likely get pulled into a speed duel with Trinniberg and/or Bodemeister and lose all hope of winning OR if he relaxes, he may still have enough left in the tank even though I do not think he will want the mile and a quarter distance.
Gulfstream was just one small step on Gemologist’s Road to the Roses, but, despite running in an allowance race, he faced a tough competitor in the previously undefeated Currency Swap. However, Gemologist made Currency Swap and the rest of the field look like claimers as he ran away with the one mile race. Winning speaks for itself, and Gemologist’s record is impeccable. Five wins from five starts looks mighty impressive, but is he really up for the task? His Wood Memorial win says that he could be, but he only managed to hold off Alpha by a neck.
The colt’s name, “The Godfather,” alone should strike fear in the hearts of his competitors, but his last race at Gulfstream was less than stellar. With his jock locked in a race war with Union Rags’ jock, maybe the loss was not entirely his fault. However, once Union Rags sprang free, El Padrino had no response. He did beat Take Charge Indy in an allowance optional claiming race, and, with different race tactics, could be a contender on Saturday.
Even if My Adonis does not make the starting gate on Saturday, he still deserves some recognition. He was also in the mix in the muddy renewal of the Holy Bull Stakes, finishing just a half length behind second place finisher Hansen. He again finished behind Hansen, this time second overall, in the Gotham Stakes before finishing 7th in his last prep, the Wood Memorial. History says that with such a poor outing in his final prep, that he would not come home a winner in the Derby, but who says history always repeats itself. The only way we will find out is if there is a timely defection.
What does all this mean? Well, for one, four of the top five on the morning line went through Florida to get to Churchill Downs. Union Rags (9-2), Gemologist (6-1), Dullahan (8-1), and Hansen (10-1) are choices two through five behind Arkansas Derby runaway winner Bodemeister. Take Charge Indy, Went the Day Well, and El Padrino are all listed at odds of 20-1 or less. With nearly half the field comprising of entrants that raced in Florida, there is a very good chance that one of them will take home the Roses and be crowned a champion. The Florida runners also offer some value with a 30-1 and 50-1 shot in the bunch. Personally, my top two choices, Union Rags and Dullahan, are part of this talented group. And there is no doubt about it. This will be a Kentucky Derby to remember!