Two big prep races on different sides of the globe highlight this weekend’s road to the Kentucky Derby.
Stateside, the Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby will headline one of Gulfstream Park’s biggest days in Hallandale Beach, where a field of nine will contend for valuable Kentucky Derby points. Qualifying points will be awarded on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four.
The 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 race has produced three of the last five Derby winners, including the last two. Ironically, last year’s Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming, will be making his 2018 debut on the Gulfstream undercard in the Hardacre Mile. The Florida Derby has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown races over time.
The main event, set for 6:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, will feature horses that won two prep races at the Florida track in morning line favorite Audible (9-5) and second choice Promises Fulfilled (3-1). The top two both have early speed on a strip that is typically fast on Florida Derby day.
Closers have won only two times during this decade, Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011) both came from well off the pace to win. Recently it’s been stalkers or front runners that have had the advantage in Florida’s biggest race for 3-year-old colts. Horses in these two categories have won over 66 percent of the time since 1991.
The doesn’t bode well for Sam F. Davis runner-up Catholic Boy (7-2), a talented son of More Than Ready, who has only 14 Derby qualifying points and could be on the outside looking in if he doesn’t tally in here.
Trainer Jonathan Thomas, who apprenticed under Christophe Clement and Todd Pletcher understands how big this race is. “It’s a prep, but it’s very important in its own right for a horse, both as a racehorse and a stallion, and for a young trainer it’s a monster opportunity,” Thomas said.
His closing style and his inability to get past Flameaway in the stretch at Tampa are concerns going into the race. Tampa can be a quirky surface though, and he had a favorable breeze according to Thomas, and looks to be fit coming into the race.
Audible, the Holy Bull winner, has been off since that race, skipping the Fountain of Youth to point at the Derby. One of an army of Pletcher Derby hopefuls, the son of Into Mischief drew an outside post in No. 8, and will have to deal with the short distance to the first turn in the 9-furlong race.
Pletcher addressed questions regarding possible distance limitations with XBTV’s Christina Bossinakis. “His pedigree suggests that a mile and an eighth is within his scope. What was very encouraging was the way he finished at a mile and a sixteenth. He showed a real turn of foot and acceleration at the end of the Holy Bull that I thought was very visually impressive. It gives you hope and optimism he can handle further distances,” said Pletcher.
Promises Fulfilled, the Fountain of Youth winner, gets the nod from this corner due to several factors. He comes into the race second off the layoff, his sire Shackleford was dominant at this distance and regains Robby Albarado aboard.
“I think he’s three lengths away from being the favorite for the Kentucky Derby right now,” said trainer Dale Romans, referring to the troubled trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club. “He’d be 4-for-4, which he very much should have been.”
Post Time Outlook (Florida Derby): 1 –Promises Fulfilled, 2 –Audible, 3 –Catholic Boy, 4 –Storm Runner
Earlier in the day on Saturday morning as part of the Dubai World Cup card is the Group 2 UAE Derby, another 170-point Derby prep race to be held in the United Arab Emirates.
Post time for the 1-3/16 mile UAE Derby is 9:30 a.m. EDT from Dubai at Meydan Racecourse. A field of nine, including one filly, is entered in the $2 million race.
On paper it looks like a two-horse race between Godolphin’s Gold Town (6-5) and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn (5-2).
Gold Town, a son of Street Cry, looked brilliant winning the two preps for this race at Meydan for trainer Charlie Appleby. Winning both the UAE 2000 Guineas trial and the UAE 2000 Guineas, he will be bidding to go one place better than his sire, who was second in this race before winning the Dubai World Cup.
“He couldn’t have done more than he has in his two races so far and hopefully he can put in another good performance at the weekend. He’s an improving horse,” said Appleby.
Mendelssohn comes off a win in the Patton at Dundalk for trainer Aidan O'Brien.
He has shipped well and could be an interesting Derby contender, should he qualify for the Run for the Roses. He defeated stablemate Threeandfourpence (8-1) by three-quarters lengths at Dundalk.
“Mendelssohn continues to improve and we think he can run a big race. He is by Scat Daddy and is quite a strong traveler so we will learn more about him at Meydan, in terms of maybe the Kentucky Derby,” said O’Brien.
Reride (11-1), who won two stakes races in the States prior to shipping to Dubai, is taking an interesting road to the Kentucky Derby. Not many horses can say they went Delta Downs to Sunland Park to Meydan on the road to Louisville.
His win in the Mine That Bird Stakes was flattered last weekend, when Runaway Ghost, who he beat by 2 ½-lengths, came back to romp in the Sunland Derby. Reride is trained by Steve Asmussen, who also conditioned another son of Candy Ride in last year’s horse of the year, Gun Runner. Asmussen trained 2008 Dubai World Cup winner Curlin.
Look for Mendelssohn to relish his first try on a dirt surface and edge a game Gold Town at the wire.
Post Time Outlook (UAE Derby): 1 –Mendelssohn, 2 –Gold Town, 3 –Reride, 4 – Threeandfourpence
For more on the Dubai World Cup card, check online for a summary of the big races.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.
Story topics: Horse Racing