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Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/17/2010 4:40:18 PM

The Florida Derby, once a pivotal component on the Triple Crown trail, will be the subject this week and make no mistake; the Florida Derby is an important prep.

In the last nearly 60 years only 13 runners total did not run in the money in either that fixture, the Wood, Bluegrass or Santa Anita Derby.

In the last 50 years or so those that posted the Florida Derby/Kentucky Derby double barely hit 10-mark starting with the great Nashua.

Part of the reason has been scheduling, geography and the natural progression of the spreading of the talent.

In recent years, a couple have raced in the Florida Derby unsuccessfully, but have gone on to win at Churchill. Go for Gin in 1994 ran 2nd in the Fountain of Youth and fourth in the Florida Derby but then rebounded with a 9-1 success in Kentucky.

Unbridled hit the double in 1990. Thunder Gulch took both preps in Florida before cashing in Kentucky in 1995. Monarchos posted a 105 winning figure in the Gulfstream showcase race then improved 11 digits in his smashing win in the real Derby.

The great Barbaro proved best in 2006 at 8-5 in the Florida Derby. Speed was king that day as the runners that were one through 5 after 6 furlongs finished one through 5. Barbaro had a golden trip. He sat just off the speed of Sharp Humor after bobbling at the start, reached even terms with the leader on the far turn, then wore down that foe to get up late. 

Five weeks later backers got a fat 6-1 on the courageous horse in Kentucky.

Just two years ago Big Brown showed what he could do for you by wiring the Florida foes, then coming from 6th and about 4 lengths back winning over filly Eight Belles on May 3.

Last season it appeared to be a monster was growing as Quality Road parlayed a  5-1 win in the Fountain of Youth to a 111 winning Beyer in the Florida Derby but was worse for wear and had to vacation until a winning comeback in August.

This year, the big guns were aiming for this race but got misdirected. 

Eskendereya would have been favorite but his connections opted to go to the Wood in April. 

Instead trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle Rule, who has fired every time, is working on a 4-race winning streak and is coming off a 98 Beyer in the Sam Davis at Tampa. He will likely be the chalk with the gates are sprung.

Alternative rockers know all about the band Radiohead, but the horse by the same name is coming around quickly and will try to hold up the image of Big Brown for trainer Richard Dutrow. The son of millionaire Johannesburg was a troubled seventh in the Breeders’ Cup

Juvenile but won his Florida debut in facile fashion with a 94 Beyer. This Group 2 winner will not be intimidated by big fields.

Gary Stevens played ‘Iceman’ in the Seabiscuit movie but Kent Desormeaux will ride Ice Box in the Florida Derby. The son of Pulpit finished fifth in the Fountain of Youth after making a big sweeping move from 10th to fourth on the far turn.

Pulsion will have to pick it up after a dull sixth in his last while Obama’s favorite son, First Dude, has dangerous speed but may be compromised if he gets to Kentucky as he was tiring in his first 9-furlong attempt.

The other spacey hopeful, Game on Dude, overcame trouble breaking his maiden with a 86 Beyer and has trained fast since. Both sire and dam had no problem carrying their speed.

Soaring Empire is a lightly-race son of Empire Maker that has never won beyond 7 furlongs. The dam’s lone win was a route and she dropped double route winner and near $125K earner Flying Dixie.

Pleasant Prince has trained well since the recent loss by over 10 lengths but has a lot to prove while Miner’s Reserve will be thrown into the frying pan after just breaking his maiden.

Lentenor has fired every time, is in the good hands of Barbaro’s trainer Michael Matz, posted a best of 36 bullet move last Monday and will be taking a similar route to that former Derby winner as he tries to transfer his turf form.

Best Actor came back to earth recently after breaking his maiden by 4 but has the blood to thrive long being by Rock Hard Ten.

The bottom line is that a lot of runners in this race have made abrupt changes in their plans and that is seldom a good thing when mapping out a quest to get to the Kentucky Derby.

Rule may have to come from a bit off the pace this time but if he can rate a little, he’ll prove one tough customer. The bad news is the value will not be there so the play just might be a horse with plenty of upside to him, Lentenor.



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