The Kentucky Derby trail winds through three different tracks this weekend with action set for both coasts. Tampa Bay Downs (Tampa Derby), Aqueduct (Gotham) and Santa Anita (San Felipe) will all host major prep races on Saturday.
All three races will offer the top four finishers Derby qualifying points totaling 50-20-10-5 as we enter another weekend of the Championship Series of races. The Gotham and the San Felipe will be shown as part of a Fox Sports 2 telecast starting at 4:00 p.m. ET.
Some talented colts will be seeking valuable points, with the winner of each race basically earning a gate in Louisville on the First Saturday in May.
The Big A is the site for the Gotham Stakes, a one-turn dirt mile that attracted nine starters.
The field $300,000 Grade 3 Gotham will go to post at 5:42 p.m. ET as Race 10 on the card in Ozone Park. The favorite is Fountain of Youth deserter Free Drop Billy (9-5), who is a late running type whose sire is Belmont winner Union Rags.
Not sold on him though after he scratched out of last weekend’s race to a race at a shorter distance. His pedigree screams that he can go long, yet the connections have picked this spot for him. He ran well in the Holy Bull and possibly the extra week will help, but at 9-5, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Second choice Firenze Fire (5-2) is probably the best in this field that is unlikely to produce a Derby winner. No horse in the field is in the NTRA Top Ten 3-year-old poll with Free Drop Billy at No. 12 and Firenze Fire at No. 14.
Firenze Fire is 2-for-2 at the distance, ran a solid second to Avery Island in the Withers, so he has track experience. He gets Manny Franco back in the saddle who rode him to victory in the Jerome during his 2-year-old campaign.
Laurel shipper Old Time Revival (15-1) has been working lights out and warrants a look in the exotics at a price.
Enticed (7-2) is worth giving a pass on his Holy Bull on the Gulfstream speed strip for Godolphin. Trainer McLaughlin has won this race before (Like Now, 2006) and his colt’s dam It’s Tricky had success at Aqueduct also. I’m willing to give him another chance.
Post Time Outlook (Gotham): 1 – Firenze Fire, 2 – Enticed, 3 – Old Time Revival; 4 – Free Drop Billy
Tampa Bay Derby
Sam F. Davis winner Flameaway (3-1) will look to continue his winning ways at Tampa and punch his ticket to Louisville for trainer Mark Casse. The signature event on the Tampa Bay Downs calendar will go off as race 11 at 5:20 p.m. ET on Saturday over 1 1/16-miles.
With Free Drop Billy and Enticed both likely to scratch in favor of the Gotham, this field is fairly wide open, with valuable points on the line. Second choice Vino Rosso (4-1) puts the blinks on for the first time for last year’s Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. He ran well in only his third career race in the Davis just over a length behind Flameaway.
Two horses to take a long look at are World of Trouble (5-1) coming in off a big speed number over the Tampa track and turfer Untamed Domain (6-1), who tries the dirt for the first time for trainer Graham Motion.
The race looks to have some pretty good pace, so we’ll got with 23 percent turf-to-dirt trainer Motion and the West Point hoss.
Post Time Outlook (Tampa Bay Derby): 1 – Untamed Domain, 2 – Vino Rosso, 3 – Flameaway, 4 – World of Trouble
San Felipe Stakes
Likely the best race of the day, if the weather holds, a field of eight will run in the $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita Park. That field includes three serious threats to capturing top honors. The San Felipe is Race 6 and post time is 5:30 p.m. ET for the 1 1/16-mile race.
Weather could play a factor in the results, as highly talented Bolt d’Oro (2-1) is likely to scratch if the track comes up sloppy and head to Oaklawn for the Rebel. He’ll face off against Sham winner and morning line favorite McKinzie (9-5).
The rivals are the top two horses in the aforementioned NTRA poll and the winner will emerge as the Santa Anita Derby favorite and top horse from the west coast to head to Louisville.
One colt’s connections hope that the focus stays on the top two is challenger Kanthaka (4-1) whose sire Jimmy Creed loved the Santa Anita oval. He’s a horse who has kept moving forward in his career races and could be sitting on a career best effort.
Lombo (8-1), the Lewis winner, is a nice horse, but the varsity is here for this round of preps and he could be just a notch below.
Post Time Outlook (San Felipe): 1 – Bolt d’Oro 2 – Kanthaka, 3 – McKinzie, 4 - Lombo
Wet Track: 1 – Kanthaka, 2 – McKinzie, 3 – Lombo, 4 - Peace
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.