There are some big guns aiming for Sunday’s $1 million Florida Derby.
Winners of the Fountain of Youth (FOY) have won Gulfstream Park’s showcase event more times than the other two traditional preps combined during the past 20 years.
That’s a good omen for Soldat, who captured the 65th FOY at 1 1/8th miles by two lengths going wire to wire.
The son of War Front made a strong appearance during and after a five-furlong workout at the Palm Meadows training facility last Sunday, according to observers, going five furlongs in 1:00 4/5.
“He worked great,” trainer Kiaran McLaughin said. “He worked excellent and galloped out strong. We’re happy with the work. It was perfect. He’s just doing well.”
The 60th Florida Derby field will include Dialed In, victorious in the 22nd Holy Bull at a mile by 1 ½ lengths, but probably not Flashpoint, the 7 ¼-length winner of the Hutcheson at seven furlongs.
Dialed In breezed five furlongs in 1:01 last Sunday at Palm Meadows. “He’s just an amazing horse,” trainer Nick Zito said after his previous March 24 bullet work of 47 2/5 for a half-mile, catching the final eighth in 11 seconds, according to BloodHorse.com.
“I’ve felt strongly about a lot of the horses I’ve trained, but there’s something about this horse that stands out,” Zito said. “He’s been a gift from God. After what he did, winning the Holy Bull in only his second lifetime start and off a 2 ½ -month layoff, we didn’t want to do too much with him.
“I hate to use the word ‘bounce,’ but that’s what he did in the allowance race (finishing second March 6 at Gulfstream), where the pace was very slow, it was against older horses, and the winner (Equestrio, who Zito trains) is a very good horse.”
Since 1991, when Fly So Free triumphed by a length in the Florida Derby after capturing both preps, five more FOY winners have taken Gulfstream Park’s premier stakes race.
The son of Time for a Change was the second 3-year-old to do so since Spectacular Bid in ’79. Unlike The Bid he failed to win the Kentucky Derby, running fifth to Florida Derby runner-up Strike the Gold.
Spectacular Bid had a super sophomore season, also winning Hialeah’s Flamingo Stakes, Keeneland’s Blue Grass and the Preakness at Pimlico.
Three Holy Bull winners repeated in the Florida Derby during the last two decades while only two Hutcheson victors did. Ironically, the other horse besides Fly So Free was Holy Bull in ’94, two years before the Preview Stakes was renamed for him.
Flashpoint, the Hutcheson winner, most likely will run in the Swale at seven furlongs on Sunday. Trainer Rickard Dutrow said son of Pomeroy, unbeaten in two outings, is “suited better to the seven-eighths.”
The Florida Derby also features as couple of stakes winners at other tracks.
Watch Me Go upset the favored Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby, scoring by a neck in the 1 1/16- mile contest in 1:44 1/5.
Stay Thirsty comes off a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Gotham at Aqueduct, covering the same distance in 1:44 3/5.
After breezing five furlongs last Sunday at Palm Meadows in 1:02 in company, the son of ’06 Preakness champ Bernardini likely will wear blinkers, said trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He was a little green on the inside of another horse, and we’re thinking of putting blinkers on him. He was just a little intimidated with another horse kind of eyeballing him from the outside.”
To Honor and Serve, a multiple Grade 2 winner as a juvenile, drilled a half-mile in a bullet 49 seconds Sunday at Payson Park, tying for the best of 18 works. The son of Bernardini seeks tries to rebound from his third-place finish in the FOY.
During the past 59 runnings of the Florida Derby, 39 runners have gone on to capture an amazing 54 Triple Crown events.