The Grade 1 $1,000,000 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby will run this Sunday at Gulfstream Park in Florida. What the field of eight lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality. The field includes Soldat, To Honor And Serve, Arch Traveler, Bowman's Causeway, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty, Dialed In, and Flashpoint. This is the first of the Derby preps in which each entry has a viable shot of finishing in the money. In its sixty-year history, the Florida Derby has produced twenty-one Kentucky Derby winners, so there's a good chance you may see this year's Kentucky Derby winner on Sunday.
Soldat is listed as the 9-5 morning line favorite and definitely looks sharp coming into this race. He won his last race, the 1 1/8 mile Fountain of Youth Stakes, on a fast Gulfstream track and won his prior start at Gulfstream in the slop. So, whatever the weather is in Florida on Sunday, it shouldn't be a problem for Soldat. What may be a problem is if Soldat is not allowed the lead. In his last two races, he has won wire-to-wire. In his prior races on grass, he stayed just off the pace, but finished in second. As the distances increase, it gets harder for a horse to continue to win on the lead. In order to squash any concern that Soldat cannot handle sitting behind the front-runners because of the kickback, trainer Kiarnan McLaughlin recently worked Soldat behind two other horses and purposely kept him far enough back to get the dirt in his face. Soldat did not appear to mind it at all and actually made a bold move between the other horses before closing. I assume this training tactic means that jockey Alan Garcia will try to keep Soldat just behind the leaders. I'll be watching to see whether or not Soldat can handle a different running style and not so much whether he wins this race.
To Honor And Serve will make his second start off the layoff and has a good chance to improve off of his third place finish in the Fountain of Youth. He will likely be on the lead with the likes of undefeated Flashpoint, who won the Hutchenson Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths; Shackleford, who was a consistent fifth throughout the Fountain of Youth; and Arch Traveler, who's coming off of an allowance win over Nacho Business (who finished eighth in last week's Louisiana Derby).
The early speed may set up the race for closers Stay Thirsty and Dialed In. Stay Thirsty won his first race of the season last month when he won the Gotham Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths. He will race in blinkers for the first time Sunday. Typically, first time blinkers is a great wagering angle because it can provide a benefit to a horse that may not be winning because he's distracted by the other horses or just lacks focus, but I don't get it in this case. Stay Thirsty has won twice and placed twice in his five lifetime starts. It doesn't seem that he needs the added focus of blinkers, but I'm sure trainer Todd Pletcher knows what he's doing with this equipment change.
Dialed In is a deep closer and, although he's coming off of a loss in his last race, that race was against older horses and he only finished a half length behind the winner. He's also turned in back-to-back bullet works in recent weeks. With a morning line of 8-1, he offers great value.
The race is the 10th on Sunday's Gulfstream card and is scheduled to run at 5:42 PM. This should be a fantastic race to watch and you have more viewing options than in the previous Derby preps this year. The race can be seen live on HRTV and online at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association website. TVG will air the race on tape delay.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby