The 58th running of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, FL on Saturday (ESPN; 5:44pm Post Time) is one of the few remaining major prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby on May 2nd. The $750,000 purse for this Grade 1 event will be contested at 1 1/8 miles, featuring nine (9) runners including Fountain Of Youth winner, Quality Road. All of his competitors are far from being an Elite Eight as far as Derby-worthiness, but Quality Road (#2; 2-1 M/L) will not win this race!
So considering the lack of quality competition, why make such a bold statement about the likely favorite or at the very least second choice here? First, he has to carry 8 lbs. more (122) than he did when winning the Fountain Of Youth in his last race. A wise horseman once said, “Adding 5 lbs. is enough to stop a train”. Second, the Florida Derby isn’t a sprint, it is 9 furlongs (aka 1 1/8 miles), and an eighth of a mile further than Quality Road has ever been asked to run in his 3 race career. His front-running style makes him vulnerable if he has others challenging him for the lead early in a race. This fact leads me to point #3, there will be at least two other runners, Casey’s On Call(#3; 15-1) and Danger To Society (#7; 6-1), who will want to be on or very close to the lead. This will cause Quality Road to use too much energy too early in the race to save his best for the stretch run. The fourth and final reason Quality Road will not win the Florida Derby… his bloodlines. His sire (i.e. Dad) and dam (i.e. Mom) did their best work at the middle distances (7 – 8 furlongs). The last eighth of a mile on Saturday will be his toughest. If he can overcome all of this, then my hat is off to him!
The one who will beat Quality Road will be Dunkirk (#4; 9-5 M/L). Though this is only his third career start, he has been very impressive in winning his first two, looking very professional doing so. Unlike his main competitor, he has carried today’s weight (122 lbs.) and won his last race at today’s race distance. He was purchased as a yearling for $3.7 million and so far appears to be a bargain. His connections were so high on him prior to his last race, they convinced California-based jockey Garrett Gomez to fly to Florida to ride him in an allowance race. That is unheard of! Gomez makes the coast-to-coast trip again today in hopes of guiding Dunkirk into the Winners Circle and then onto Louisville.
Those battling for a minor share will be Theregoesjojo (#6; 5-1), runner-up to Quality Road in Fountain of Youth when spotting him 2 lbs. whereas two races back, “JoJo” beat “Road” when he had a 2 lb. advantage. Today they are on even terms. Danger To Societymakes his debut for trainer Richard Dutrow who seems to perform miracles with horses who run for the first time under his care. His morning work tab suggests he’ll be a factor, bouncing back from his seventh place finish in the Holy Bull stakes as the 9-5 favorite. Toby The Coal Man (#1; 10-1) has improved since Nick Zito decided to race him without blinkers. Though just off his maiden win in his sixth start, he has taken a liking to the Gulfstream strip and 9 furlong distance. Europe (#8; 20-1), who ran fourth in his only start is the half-brother to Dunkirk. Todd Pletcher trains both. He might use Europe as a “rabbit” for Dunkirk or considering Europe also cost a pretty penny ($2.6 million), might think he is good enough to grab a small piece of this $750,000 pie?
Here’s how I see it… Dunkirk displays a powerful stretch run, passing Quality Road at the sixteenth pole as Theregoesjojo nips the latter at the wire for second. Danger To Society or Toby The Coal Man will round out the superfecta.
Complimentary “Race of the Week” Past Performances for the Florida Derby are available at www.drf.comand www.kentuckyderby.com. Enjoy the exciting chase scenes thoroughbred horse racing has to offer everyday!