Revisiting the Florida Derby prospects for the Kentucky Derby

Darren Rogers photo of the historic Spires

Right now, everyone is trying to find their smart bet or sure thing for the Kentucky Derby next week.  They want to demonstrate their superior handicapping and intellect as well as bring the bank to the doorstep.  In doing so, I thought it was important to take a closer look at the Florida Derby.  Why?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, the Kentucky Derby morning line favorite, Dialed In, came though in the race.  Secondly, a Derby favorite prior to the race, Soldat, threw a clunker and finally, this prep will produce more Kentucky Derby starters than any other prep (4).

Given the final quarter time, Dialed In was given every opportunity to win…and the bottom line is he did.  After racing in last through most of the race, his final move was impressive and ended with a driving rally past Shackleford in the final few jumps.  Shackleford ran as tough as a race as he could.  He led through quick fractions and battled off a challenge by To Honor and Serve before finally falling to Dialed In.  His performance was impressive and even more surprising at 68-1.

However, we know how these two ran and why they are leading contenders, but what can we offer about the two (Soldat and Stay Thirsty) that had disappointing finishes.  First off, Soldat was coming off an impressive victory where he had an early and easy lead in the Fountain of Youth.  In the Florida Derby, jockey Alan Garcia asked him to rate behind the leaders and then unleash his run past them in the stretch.  He had no run.  It was surprising because he had been training well behind horses and seemed unaffected by the dirt in his face.  However, the race produced a different result.  I think that this horse is still a contender for several reasons.  He is too talented, owns two victories at 1 1/8, Churchill’s track features limited kickback when compared to Gulfstream and the Derby has lost some of its early speed.

If you like Stay Thirsty, then act like this race didn’t even exist.  He looked uncomfortable or should I say ‘Thirsty’ in the paddock, sweating profusely.  He never got into the race and the blinkers did not help as he was out of the race before the far turn.  Not only that but a horse that he beat convincingly in the Gotham, Toby’s Corner, went on to run beautifully and win the Wood Memorial over a tiring Uncle Mo.

What have they done since the Florida Derby

Dialed In (1st) – Stayed in Florida and will ship to Kentucky this Saturday with Soldat.  He has worked superbly firing a couple of fashionable works (they always are aren’t they?) and finished his gallops strong.

Shackleford (2nd) – With the defection of several contenders, Shackleford made it in the field and has been at Churchill under Dale Romans’ watchful eye.  Recently, he worked in the slop and does own a victory over the Churchill oval.

Soldat (5th) – Stayed in Florida to work at Palm Meadows.  Working well and looks like a horse that is ready to run.  He worked well before the Florida Derby but obviously did not like taking the kickback in his face behind horses.  The good news is that Churchill doesn’t send as much back into stalking horses as Gulfstream and if the track is wet, then watch out.

Stay Thirsty (7th) – Moved to Churchill and promptly fired a bullet over the track with Calvin Borel aboard.  However, the mount was given back to Ramon Dominguez who rode him in the Florida Derby to an uninspiring finish.  Working well but could have been a great fit with a patient rider who knows the Churchill strip extremely well.

All of this sounds great but what does this mean for the actual Derby.  Well, I think that all four are contenders to run for a piece of the prize.  Dialed In has proven that he will not give up and can finish.  Shackleford and Soldat are proven runners with early speed and can be dangerous if they are allowed to control the pace and lead.  And Stay Thirsty, is a complete wildcard.

Is this finally the time that Soldat shows his turf form and the ability to rate behind horses and accelerate past them?  Does the added distance make Stay Thirsty a contender to pick up the pieces?

With a little more than a week till race day, these are questions that will be answered shortly.

Written By: Fundanichols

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