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Kentucky Derby 2014 - Handicapping the Florida Derby

General a Rod GPD 615 X 415
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Lauren King
Only twice in the last five years has the Florida Derby not contained either a winner or runner-up in a Triple Crown race.   The roster of Florida Derby winners who have made an impact on the Triple Crown races reads like a who’s who of racing. In the last thirteen years, seven winners or runners up in the Florida Derby won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes.  Monarchos, Barbaro and Orb won the Kentucky Derby; Big Brown won the Derby and Preakness; Empire Maker won the Belmont, and Shackleford, second place in the 2011 Florida Derby, won the Preakness. Additionally, 2010 Florida Derby champ Ice Box was second in the Kentucky Derby.
The extra half furlong between the Fountain of Youth held at 1 1/16 miles and the Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles doesn’t seem that far. Unless you’re a tired racehorse lugging a whipping jockey and his tack to the wire.  Florida Filly Ashley Tamulonis and I team up to sort out the colts who can manage the extra distance and become the next Florida Derby winner.

WILDCAT RED — At this point, I’m really beginning to wonder if Wildcat Red is going to pull a Little Mike on us and just keep doing everything we say he can’t do. Pedigree-wise, the Florida Derby might just be as far as he will want to go, but he’s so gritty that he makes you question what really is outside his scope. As a front-runner, he’ll obviously continue to benefit from the speed bias at Gulfstream, but if archrival General a Rod or any of the other speed engages him early and often, it very well could be game over. Regardless, I’m not jumping ship now. Contender.
WILDCAT RED - (D'wildcat - Racene, by Miner's Mark) has posted improving speed figures in every race. He’s shown that he can rate, but drawing the one hole all but guarantees that he’ll have to shoot out of there to keep from being closed off on the rail. Saez jumps off to ride his regular mount Cairo Prince, so Johnny V. picks up the reins. I agree with Ashley that 1 1/8 miles will likely be at the top of Wildcat Red’s scope. I don’t like his position or running style.  Nor do I like the fact that he took a whole month off before posting a breeze after the Fountain of Youth and posted a 3 furlong bullet “lung opener” in his last breeze.  That indicates to me that the FOY took a lot out of him and he’s been sharpened for the Florida Derby.  This colt doesn’t know when to quit and perhaps he can finish in the money, but I’ll take a pass here.

MATADOR — In the Tampa Bay Derby, he did pretty much what I expected him to do. Trailing early, he improved his position late to get up for 5th, 5¾ lengths behind the day’s winner. He enters this spot off a 3 week turnaround and qualifies for the 3rd off the layoff factor. He gets blinkers for the first time, making me wonder if trainer Mark Casse wants to try to get him more involved early on due to the nature of the Gulfstream course. Casse gets 5% winners with 1st time blinkers and 10% winners overall with blinkers on. Seems like this is a last ditch effort to get Matador into the Churchill starting gate, and if you’re going to experiment, now’s the time to do so because he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Pass.
MATADOR (Malibu Moon - I'm Breathtaking, by Elusive Quality) has finished off of the board in both of his two starts this year, which were Tampa stakes races and his only on the board finishes were in turf races.  Matador’s dam is a half-sister to Golden Itiz, a turf/Poly winner and to Sapphire N’ Silk, the dam of graded stakes winners Shaniko and Silky Smooth.  Another half-sister bore Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf heroine Shared Account.  See a trend?  Pass.
CAIRO PRINCE —With all the defects and based on the Kentucky Derby field if the race were run today, this son of Pioneerof the Nile is my top selection to win it all. Unlike a majority of this field, he’s already tested at 9 furlongs, and he lost that decision by a scant nose to a colt many had pegged as their early Kentucky Derby favorite. I don’t like that the colt has been off since his Holy Bull victory in January, but that may give him a freshness edge over the more battle-tested entrants like Wildcat Red. His works have been good, including a bullet 5 furlong move at the beginning of the month. McLaughlin is good at having his charges ready to fire off a layoff, so I see no reason to doubt Cairo Prince here. Winner winner!
CAIRO PRINCE - (Pioneerof the Nile - Holy Bubbette, by Holy Bull) is a short nose away from being undefeated. Pioneerof The Nile’s babies are as tough as they come and don’t know the meaning of quit. Cairo Prince is proven at 1 1/8 miles and over the Gulfstream dirt. I agree with Ashley that he’s the horse to beat. Major contender.

CONSTITUTION — Undefeated Constitution is Todd Pletcher’s sole runner here. Two-for-two at Gulfstream with Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano in his corner does much to recommend him, but is he ready for this spot off just two career starts? Big Brown managed that feat in 2008, but he would be the exception and not the rule. His front-running style will help so long as he doesn’t get tangled up in a speed duel. It goes against my logic to ignore a Pletcher entrant at Gulfstream, but I’m just not convinced…yet. Use for exotics.
CONSTITUTION (Tapit - Baffled, by Distorted Humor) has the pedigree to handle 1 1/8 miles. Sure, he’s raced only twice, but his speed figures are on par or better than the rest of the Florida Derby field.   The beautiful dark bay colt’s dam is a half-sister to Forgo winner Emcee and stakes winner Spring Party, so there’s certainly class in his family. Constitution toyed with the fields in both of his starts and now is the time to figure out where he fits. If he’s as talented as I think he is, this late-comer could be this year’s Big Brown, without the ‘roids.  Major contender.

EAST HALL— I’m developing a love/hate relationship with this gelding. When I overlooked him in the Fountain of Youth, he ran huge to get a share of the exotics. When I changed my tune and gave him a shot in the Tampa Bay Derby, he flopped. So I’m just going to go back to my original assessment of him. No, thank you.
EAST HALL - (Graeme Hall - East Long Lake, by Sultry Song) has a definite pattern in his Bris speed figures. I don’t think he cared for the Tampa surface and his running style doesn’t really work with the Gulfstream speed bias, plus his pedigree is borderline for 1 1/8 miles.  East Hall is a second tier contender who may pass tired horses to clunk up into fourth place. Ashley and I both have a love/hate relationship with this one. I liked him in the Fountain of Youth, but jumped off of him for the Tampa Bay Derby. If one of the top horses fail to run their race, East Hall could fill out the lower exotics again. If you’re doing a super box, he is one that could get up for fourth place.

GENERAL A ROD — Along with rival Wildcat Red, General a Rod has given us some thrills on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. In two starts against one another, the two colts split the series with a win apiece. Last out, he missed by a head to Wildcat Red, but both have to travel an extra sixteenth of a mile this time. Though they finished clear of third place finisher Top Billing last time, that added distance may be just what a presser/closer needs to get by them in the stretch. Still a contender, though.
GENERAL A ROD - (Roman Ruler - Dynamite Eyes, by Dynaformer) comes back for what could be the finale of the Wildcat Red General A Rod trilogy. This colt has a better pedigree for getting 1 1/8 miles than his nemesis. He also shows a better work pattern, including a sharp second to last five furlong breeze. General A Rod has shown improvement in every start and can continue to improve.  Major Contender.

ALLSTAR — Who??? A win in the slop and a win sprinting, both at Calder, do little to recommend him against this bunch. Sire Flower Alley can get a classic winner, but dam Carolina Blue was a non-winner in 4 starts and second dam Incredible Me won just once in 18 tries. A first glance showed me nothing noteworthy, but a little digging around showed that there is some class in the distaff line. Carolina Blue’s half-sister Upside produced stakes winner Red Lead, and their female family, 1-n, produced Kentucky Derby winners Swale and Genuine Risk. Pedigree possibilities aside, I’d say it’s safe to say Allstar is a toss.
ALLSTAR (Flower Alley - Carolina Blue, by Victory Gallop) is by the same sire as 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another out of a mare by a Belmont Stakes winner. He should just be getting warmed up at 1 1/8 miles. Allstar was originally owned by the Coolmore gang and trained by Pletcher.   That being said, I have no clue why they forked over $175K for this colt at auction. His dam went 0-4 in her career and there’s little blacktype in the family.  He could develop into a nice colt, but I think this step is too steep.  Keep him in mind for the Calder Derby if he enters.  That being said…I’m in agreement with Ashley, pass.

SPOT — Laurie loves Spot, but I just can’t get on board with him. I don’t think I can really even take anything away from his Swale victory. Sure, beating No Nay Never “proved” his class, but I have two big issues with that. First of all, No Nay Never was making his first ever traditional dirt start, and secondly, he was in off a layoff. A lot of people will say that if No Nay Never was as good as he was hyped to be, he would have found a way to win. That sounds good, but it’s not really a fair statement. I like Spot for a shot at filling at the exotics, but that’s about it.
SPOT (Pulpit - Quiet Summernight, by Quiet American) is this year’s “Zito Special.”  Spot did indeed run in the Swale Stakes and was in front under the wire. His sire Pulpit gave us 2010 Florida Derby winner Dialed in – trained by Nick Zito.  Zito’s charges have won the Florida Derby three times, twice back-to-back, and his charges completed the exacta in 2005, thus the “Zito Special” moniker. I have a fondness for Spot, but I’m wary. The pretty gray colt has an obvious “good race/bad race” cycle. His overall speed figures fit with these contenders and if he runs as well as he did in the Swale, Spot has a chance to upset the field. You’re right, Ashley, I do love Spot. Contender.

Track bias: Speed rules at Gulfstream and outside posts are guaranteed a wide trip at 1 1/8 miles. Of the eight races contested at 1 1/8 miles this year, four of the winners flashed early speed. The running style in the last seven Florida Derbies contained four winners who led/pressed the pace, one mid-pack runner and two who won from the back of the pack.  There’s an 80% chance of rain earlier in the day, but the track should be dry and fast by Derby time.
Less than half of the favorites in the Florida Derby have succeeded in the last ten years and overall, favorites have won at this class level and distance at Gulfstream only 37% off the time, although they finish in the money 72%. The average winning payoff is $8 and we’ve cashed some nice exotics tickets over the years.
ASHLEY: I see Wildcat Red and General a Rod going straight to the front, battling it out on the lead like they have been doing. A few others could try to join them, but the smart thing to do would be to let those two duke it out and try to stay within striking distance early. I’m not convinced that either will be the winner, but I like their chances of sticking around in the end. I’ll take Cairo Prince over the dynamic dueling duo for the top three spots. Chalky selections, I know, but I really think there’s a clear divide between those with a shot and those with no chance at all.
LAURIE:  Ashley, I agree with you about those with a shot and those without, but I don’t see a replay of the Fountain of Youth here. It’s true that Wildcat Red and General A Rod appear to own all of the early speed, but I think both connections want to avoid another drag race at the risk of handing the trophy to someone else. All of the jocks are conscious of the speed favoring track, so they won’t let anyone slip away on the lead.  I think Cairo Prince and Constitution will be right there to pressure Wildcat Red and General A Rod.
The consensus between Ashley and I, and probably most of the racing world, is that Cairo Prince is the horse to beat in the Florida Derby. The only chink in his armor is the 63 day layoff. With 14 Kentucky Derby points tucked away in his saddlebag, the colt doesn’t need to win, just finish second or third.   
I’m going to tap General A Rod for the win. I like his breeze pattern after the Fountain of Youth, he doesn’t need to be on the pace to run his best race, and Rosario has won with him before.   
I’ll toss in Constitution for third place. He could be good enough to win it, but I’ll put the known class ahead of him.  I’m torn between Spot and East Hall for fourth place. If one of the top three fails to run his race, Spot has a shot – IF he breaks that good/bad race cycle.
ASHLEY: Cairo Prince over the dynamic duo of Wildcat Red & General A Rod. If you’re doing a Super box, toss in Constitution or Spot to fill out fourth place.
LAURIE:  General A Rod, Cairo Prince, Constitution, Spot.  I’ll play a super box with these three and possibly do another box alternating with East Hall for fourth. 


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby 2014 - Handicapping the Florida Derby...

Pom i am far from being one of Cairos biggest supporters. But Nag is a bit much,this horse is not 100 %. I agree that he is far from at his best as the distances get longer. But this horse when right has incredible talent when right. He is fast,unlike many who are still deemed contenders and are simply plodders who get the job done. As i sai many times,except for a handful of these 3 yos',this might be one of the slowest 3yo classes in memory.
fairly significant setback for that colt
Laurie as much as you would like to believe u know anything about handicapping, your nag cairo has yet to qualify. go back your drf and do8 some homework.
any on. ding hanyway since my I pad refuses to work, I'll just keep cashing in on wildcat red....including his last 2 exactas...
87vencairo prince has been the most overrated 3 yrdld old since his7s sire and uncle shmoe he couldn't even handle the cheap speed Saturday. Shame on his connection for even thinking they have a derby horse. so glad my money and my mouth was on wildcat r3d. the prince is no where near even qualifing, let alone completing a super. .. I'll just
East Hall was banged around badly in the TBD, his late ruinning style should set him up nicely for this race
I can't bet Cairo Prince off an 8 week layoff at 2-1. It looks like a tough race but I am going with Spot. He has a chance and at a much better price, and hey I like Nick Zito. Should be a very good race if the track isn't completely speed crazy.
sticking with General a Rod and Cairo Prince
Laurie , your evaluation of him at 1 1/8th of a mile is exactly the reason i never pay attention to accomplishments. A Pedestrian clocking in that race allowed him to be competetive in a 4 Horse blanket photo finish. His debut as a 3yo was not totally against lesser rivals. Let us just say thet the intentins going into the race were a hell of a lot different for Cairo as opposed to the rest of the field. You see at that time of the Season,most 3 yos' are coming out and stretching their legs. Cairo on the other hand was cranked to the Max. Maybe a bit to much high Octane Gas was in the Tank that day(if you catch my drift) You see their sole intent that day was to hoodwink the Sheik with an absolutely eye popping performance.I applaud them,they accomplished their goal.If one can believe the rumors,they got approximately 10 Million Dollars for a horse worth 2 Million at the most,even in an inflated market. They really did not care what the ramifications were to the horse.After all quoting Biase in that Video.He is now somebody elses problem.
Cairo Prince is just a short nose shy of being a winner at 1 1/8 miles. He should have no difficulty with the distance. The issue here is the big layoff and if he's primed for a top effort, although, he could be talented enough that a second-best effort will get him there. Hard to gauge a 3YO off of 2YO form when their sole 3YO race was against lesser rivals.
If Spot hits the board its because he jumped the fence and ran into it.
  • LaurieRoss · LOL Dray Nay. Hope you don't mind if I use your comment for another analysis. That's a good one! · 1333 days ago
Cairo Prince-dosage index=7.00. I thought that dosage index was supposed to be a big deal? Why is everybody on this bandwagon with a horse that has a dodage index of 7.00? So, I guess we will see if this dosage thing is worth it's weight this year. Judging on dosage, then Cairo Prince won't win the FL Derby, if he does, then I guess we have our answer about D.I.
I really like Spot. This gelding is always improving and the longer distance will be good. Working very well, coming off a win in the Swale (G2). You can throw out his performance in the Hutcheson; sort of a bad trip getting squeezed against the rail from #1 post. There will be plenty of room from the 8 “spot” this Saturday.
Nice analysis, girls. I was wondering if you might have a viewpoint on one such as Cairo Prince. Sometimes, I wonder if a very capable horse that has an ample amount of points, might not be instructed to go all out for a final Derby prep, in fear of possibly being fully extended, which could take something out of him for the Derby? Do either of you ever ponder that angle?
  • LaurieRoss · I mentioned above that he doesn't need to win in order to get into the Derby. I used that angle in selecting General A Rod over Cairo Prince in my selections. Thanks for the compliments. We hope you enjoy reading our analysis as much as we do creating them! · 1333 days ago
You should do one for the LA Derby. I would really enjoy it, among with many others.
Correction: Not go all out.
Fantatsic picks!!! I am not ready to give up on Eat Hall Just yet...but I have the same love/hate elationship with the gelding.

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Meet Laurie Ross


I've been around horses for most of my life, working in racing stables as a hot walker and exercise rider in my teenage years, and later as a volunteer with rescued and retired racehorses. I became interested in pedigree when the sons and daughters of my favorite horses started their racing careers.   


For more than a decade, I've passionately studied pedigree, how it applies to handicapping and breeding theories. In 2010, I joined Horse Racing Nation as their Pedigree Analyst, focusing on juvenile stakes winners, Triple Crown contenders and first crop sires from a handicapping perspective.   


In 2011, I accepted the role of South Florida Coordinator and Advisory Board Member for the national non-profit Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association (ThoroFan). Working closely with Gulfstream Park management and other race fans, we created a ThoroFan Chapter at Gulfstream Race Track. Our main project is assisting Thoroughbred rescue and re-training groups.


I continue to maintain my website Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds and blog of the same name. As a pedigree consultant, I specialize in assisting small to mid-size breeding/training operations with broodmare breeding reports, sales catalog analysis and recommendations on claims and private sales. 10 - 20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue and retraining groups.
I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic please contact me at

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