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Shining in the sunshine stakes

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/30/2011 12:21:23 PM

The Florida Derby goes this Sunday and before we examine a couple of the likely key players, bettors should know that this race has been an important prep in the last 20 years with the Kentucky Derby in mind.

Unbridled got the Florida Derby glory in 1990 and five years later, Thunder Gulch pulled off the Fla. Derby/Kentucky Derby double.

Three runners in the last decade did the same thing. Monarchos was successful in 2001, the fleeting star Barbaro was all the rage 5 years ago and in 2008 Big Brown proved what he could do for you by delivering in Florida and also at Churchill.

And don’t forget Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Florida Derby before taking the first two jewels of the Triple Crown.

Last year, Ice Box was coming off a close up 5th in the Fountain of Youth before winning the Florida Derby in late-running fashion.

He was dead last early but got up by a nose when recording a 99 Beyer.

With the future odds favorite Uncle Mo sitting this week out and waiting to polish his craft in the Wood Memorial on April 9, there are still some talented runners that will have a say in the outcome Sunday.

Connections of Dialed In are hoping he rebounds and is dialed in big time Sunday at Gulfstream. After winning his first two starts, he came up a half length short taking a mile and an eighth allowance race about a month ago.

He is a stone cold closer and he figures to appreciate the classic distance but one of the best things he has going for him is his trainer, Slick Nick Zito.

He trained the winners of the Derby twice in the 1990s and knows what it takes to get a horse to peak that first Saturday in May.

Soldat will likely be on or near the lead on Sunday. He got a great ride taking the Fountain of Youth but he regressed on the Beyer scale going from a 103 to a 96.

He may also not get an easy lead this weekend but he drilled well recently and it impressed his trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who loved the 1:01.01 5-furlong drill.

McLaughlin: “That was perfect. He worked great and galloped out strong. He took a lot of dirt and that will toughen him up.”

To Honor and Serve is trained by the ultra conservative Bill Mott so if he makes it to the gate on Kentucky Derby Day you can bet he’s fit as a fiddle.

He was a distant third in the Fountain of Youth but that could have been part of the plan to give this guy an education and he could get away on the tote on Sunday.

Kind of like how the most interesting man in the world likes to say, ‘stay thirsty my friends’ and the horse with that moniker will try to parlay his Gotham win on Sunday.

Stay Thirsty posted a career best 89 Beyer in the Gotham but could have an equipment change for this weekend event. He drilled okay recently but his trainer Todd Pletcher is contemplating a change.

Pletcher: “ He looked to be a little intimidated down inside the other horse, so I might throw some blinkers on him when he gallops next and see how he goes. Coming off a win, if we do decide to put blinkers on for the Florida Derby we’ll have to get permission from the stewards but I don’t think that should be any problem.”

Remember, when watching these last few preps for the Kentucky Derby, try to project where a particular horses is right now and where he’ll be on May 7.

You don’t want to peak too soon in this business.

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