The 68th running Grade One Florida Derby Purse: $1,000,000.00 A Mile & 1/8
March 30th Gulfstream Park Race # 14 Post Time 6:30PM ET
There’s nothing like the feeling of Spring, you can just feel it, there’s greater warmth in the air, the birds are chirping and the Kentucky Derby prep races are heating up.
So now, just a day prior to April Fools, we get to feel the added warmth of Florida’s Gulfstream Park and a fabulous stepping stone towards the magical and much anticipated first Saturday in May.
Inaugurated back in 1952, this the 68th running of the Florida Derby. We are reminded that a Derby Champion can surface out of the race. Look at the recent history. Back in 2013 Florida Derby winning Orb came splashing home the Kentucky Derby. In 2016, Nyquist parlayed his Florida Derby magic to a bed of roses, as did Always Dreaming the very next year in 2017.
There’s always the added intrigue along with the added warmth. It’s time to show up and perform. The top two finishers will get the opportunity to ramble on the Churchill soil the first Saturday in May and possibly set themselves up for a Triple Crown run.
This year we have eleven starters. As always, I dug real deep into each colt’s past performances, their bloodlines, history, the intangibles, and my video process with race reviews. There are a few scenarios I considered, all are important, but none more important for this particular race than how I see and feel the pace shaping up.
I know it’s somewhat cliché to say, but pace does make the race.
This is my precise order of finish meaning through all my findings, the higher they are ranked, the more probable they’ll be in position to have their picture taken in the winner’s circle. Dig into my thoughts and perhaps use them as a guide for you to make an informed decision for yourself. Consider the exotics, exactas and triples, or even some superfectas. You can go stone cold straight and/or box-em to give yourself some added opportunity.
Are you ready? Let’s Go!
# 1 Hidden Scroll
After viewing his only two career races numerous times, I made the decision to make this colt my top choice. I normally would be exceptionally stringent with my consideration knowing a horse in this spot did not run as a two year old, but Bob Baffert proved that perhaps things are changing when Justify went on his magical Triple Crown Run. By no means am I comparing this colt to Justify, I’m just not overly worried about his maturity or development or even conditioning. After his debut blowout win in the slop over this oval, he disappointed as the window favorite in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, but he actually ran a very solid race. He was just sizzled by an insane pace, and as much as I respect Joel Rosario as a Jockey, I believe there was some Jockey error in the way he handled this colt that day. I trust Bill Mott, and now the rider changes to Javier Castellano. The draw to me works in his favor with him on the rail. I’m expecting this guy to have a sharp getaway, then to have the flexibility to either seize control on the lead, or if others to his outside ( and there’s some decent speed in the race) rush out of the gate, I feel he’ll allow it to develop in front of him, then sit 2 or 3 back, move closer and allow his talent to take over as they are turning for home. This son of Hard Spun has the pedigree to get the distance, a big advantage over many in this field.
Yes, the pace is imperative but if he gets the trip I’m expecting, he may be hard to run down.
# 3 Harvey Walbanger
This guy is uniquely interesting. After watching many of his races on tape, I see heart. Four MSW races as a two-year old, winning his last, then taking 3 months off only to come back with a powerful performance in the grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes on this same Gulfstream Park soil. Sure, other handicappers may remind me that he had an absolutely perfect trip and perfect pace to close into. Yes, they are correct, but something you must realize is this guy has shown heart in all 5 of his career races, over 4 different surfaces. His performance, which was aided by an excellent ride from Brain Hernandez, found him dead last at the start and still dead last after the first half mile in 46.3. As he entered the gate he was 35-1, and just 30 seconds later when the gate opened, he went off 25-1, so there was some impressive coin placed on him before the gate opened. Interesting for sure. I believe his bloodlines support him getting this 9 furlong distance. Will he get the same suicidal pace to run in to? No way, but it will still be Grade 1 honest. This guy has habitually shown me the grit and guts I like to see. His works for this race are smooth and fast, breezes that indicate fitness. I’m expecting 13-1 or better odds so I’m grabbing some value, and if he gets a solid lane, watch him get going in the final furlong.
I’m feeling Ken McPeek is bringing him into this race with some confidence.
# 4 Bourbon War
This guy can sure be tough. He’s got a world of talent, the pedigree to run 12 furlongs, let alone 9, so stamina should not be a concern here. He’s also got arguably the sports most consistent and dependable rider in Irad Ortiz. In his last, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, he came flying down the track running into that sizzling pace ( refer to my top choice) to grab place money. I feel that wasn’t his best effort. I do feel he’ll need to be more alert out of the gate to gain favorable position to close powerfully. To me he is an obvious contender.
Capable of taking it all, but I am placing him in this spot for 3rd money.
# 7 Maximum Security
This guy is unquestionably the Florida Derby wild card. I am placing him 4th, almost by default. You cannot argue with his winning ways, he’s unbeaten with all 3 wins being decisive and over this same Gulfstream soil. Perhaps above all else, his connections know how to win. I mean how ridiculous is Jason Servis and his 45% winning clip? Then add the talented hands of Luis Saez in the silks, and how can anyone totally ignore this colt? He’s got speed, but he’s only defeated significantly cheaper horses, and if he was really “special” why did he make his debut running for a 16k Maiden Tag? His works aren’t impressive at all, so I’m not sure about his fitness, or if he can handle the stretch out going 9 furlongs after doing nothing but sprint. He can hold on for a share or finish a few spots lower.
I’m torn but he’s my 4th choice here based on his connections
# 10 Union’s Destiny
This guy can potentially make those who play Triples and or Superfectas feel the glory of the day. I’m expecting him to be ignored at the windows, perhaps being dismissed at 40-1 or greater. I’m not buying it. I see a quality in this guy and give him an excuse after being no threat to several of these colts in the Fountain of Youth. Keep in mind it was his first race as a Three-Year Old, and he lacked energy at the start, an energy I saw in his prior races. I love his sire Union Rags, as I can remember him winning the Belmont Stakes, so I’m not worried one bit about the distance. He was dismissed at 94-1 in that race, and I never liked him that day, as I felt he simply needed the race and wasn’t ready. Now I’m considering him ambitiously entered, why would they go for this Grade 1 money? Expect improvement, and perhaps good enough to close and add great value to your bottom gimmicks.
# 9 Code of Honor
Many of my readers will wonder for sure whey I have him placed as 6th in this field of 11 colts, after all he was the winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, a race that I have made several references to in this column. He’s got Johnny V back in the saddle who was aboard in both his career victories. Johnny V has won this race the last two years and 3 of the last 4. He’s also riding for a top barn and seems to be in great form. He’s also got a pair of bullet works for this race, and because of all those factors he can obviously better my rating. The issue I’m having is the distance, I’m just not sure he’s built for 9 furlongs or longer. I watched the race several times, and yeah he looked nice winning, but he really benefitted from the pace in front of him, and being that he’ll likely be bet down to 2-1 or less, I decided on going with better value, and will watch his effort at this distance. If you like him, I can understand, but proceed with caution.
# 2 Current
This guy is perplexing. He’s definitely looking good pedigree wise, as his dad Curlin had great success. He was a champ we will always remember. Manny Franco up for Pletcher is compelling too, but a horse with all of his races on the weeds but one, and that one he was bumped around in the slop. I’m having a hard time accepting his chances to beat many in this field on a dry surface. He habitually starts slow and may need to run his best race to date to contend for a money shot here. Watch the board carefully and if you’re using him in your exotics, expect him to look for a lane for a deep close. As good as the jockey and trainer are, others in this field are simply more appealing.
# 8 Bodexpress
This colt enters this Grade One race still a maiden, so emerging victorious is just simply not probable. He does own a few solid efforts, and he comes from a barn that knows this strip well and has an aggressive rider in the silks. He’s stretching out and should show some tactical speed. He’s got the bloodlines to be a factor, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran a career best race here, but even if he does, perhaps the best he’ll do is fill some nice bottom gimmicks at a square price. He’s got some talent, just need to see more from him.
# 11 Garter and Tie # 5 Everfast, # 6 Hard Belle
These are my final 3 placing selections, in order of preference. All three seen to be up against it and are likely to finish out of the money. Hard Belle being the bottom feeder of the 3. As much as I can appreciate Batista in the Saddle because he works hard for his paychecks, his horse has exceptionally weak numbers and I feel he doesn’t belong in this field, he should be 100-1+. As for # 11 and # 5 they have shown some flashes of ability, but would need to improve greatly to grab some of the purse here, if you are playing their numbers, demand 30-1 or better from each.
Enjoy a great day of racing. I’m hoping my analysis helps pave the way for you to enjoy it on a greater level. All the best, Good Luck
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