2016 Florida Derby and Gulfstream Park Oaks Preview

The preparations continue for the Kentucky Derby, as the “five weeks out” prep races headline this week’s coverage.  While Gulfstream Park rolls out a banner card this Saturday, Picks & Ponderings will zero in this week on the three-year-old races.  The G1 Florida Derby and G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks are the focus of this week’s piece.  Each race serves as, for all intense purposes, an automatic qualifier to the Kentucky Derby or Oaks.

South Florida’s sophomore races aren’t the only ones under the microscope this weekend.  Nicolle Neulist heads to Turfway Park in suburban Cincinnati for the G3 Spiral Stakes and G3 Bourbonette Oaks.

Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live radio coverage of the Florida Derby Day in a progaam to air air from 4:00 pm ET to 7:00 pm ET on its website.  Both races will be streamed live on Gulfstream Park’s website (as is all racing at Gulfstream).

Morning line odds for the Gulfstream Park Oaks were not available at original publish time.  Edited Thursday, March 31 to add morning lines. All races are scheduled for Saturday, April 2.

Gulfstream Park — Race 7 — G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks — One and one-sixteenth miles on Dirt — post time 1:50 pm ET

The Gulfstream Oaks was first run in 1971 and was formerly known as the Bonnie Miss Stakes, run in honor of Bonnie Donn Jones – a member of the same Donn family that owned and operated Gulfstream in its early formative years.  (This is the same Donn for which a handicap is run at Gulfstream in early February.)  The Gulfstream Park Oaks carries a Grade Two ranking, a quarter-million in purse funds, and a 100-50-20-10 distribution of Kentucky Oaks qualification points.  Based on distance and timing, it’s a filly complement to the day’s headliner – the Florida Derby.  Not since Open Mind (1989) has a filly won both the Gulfstream Oaks and Kentucky Oaks in the same year.  However, three Gulfstream stakes namesakes – Herecomesthebride (1977),  Davona Dale (1979), and Inside Information (1994) took down the Gulfsream Oaks as sophomores – with Davona Dale also winning the Kentucky Oaks.

MO’ GREEN shares with GOMO Uncle Mo as a sire, and MO’ GREEN has a two turn win to her credit as well – but it’s a maiden win.  Still, her victory came over the local mile and a sixteenth on dirt.  Such are the conditions of this race, and MO’ GREEN progressed well in career start two to graduate at 18-1.  She stands to benefit most if the front end speed of the race decides to engage in a wicked speed duel or forgets to slow down.  Such is possible with the stretchouts and speed lined up.  Joe Bravo is slated to ride this Joe Orseno-trained filly.  MO’ GREEN may have more room for upside making career start three, something that might not be apparent or as possible with GOMO.  GOMO does concede a lot in the fitness category; this race marks the return of G1 Alcibiades winner that’s unseen since annexing that G1 event last fall at Keeneland.  But what she concedes there is made up by the fact that she’s the field’s only two turn stakes winner.  In a G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks that sees five of the seven entrants eligible for an a-other-than allowance, GOMO brings two wins to her credit – a win on Santa Anita’s greenery in the summer and the G1 Alcibaiades.  While the layoff is  concern – it should be noted Doug O’ Neill and Reddam Racing pulled a similar ruse with I’ll Have Another – who became a dual classic winner – to skip the March prep.  While she concedes the experience she at least showed an ability to work from off the pace – an asset in a race where most entrants are either forward geared or stretching out to two turns for the first time.  Todd Pletcher wins races at Gulfstream by the bushels, so anything he sends out is a worth a hard look.  OFF THE TRACKS goes second off the layoff after capturing a minor stakes earlier in the meet.  At two she graduated and won a G3 at Saratoga and is one of two in the field – GOMO the other – that wouldn’t qualify for an a-other-than allowance.  OFF THE TRACKS has the breeding to appreciate two turns (Curlin X Harve de Grace), the connections win and win often.  Pletcher takes over the training duties in OFF THE TRACKS’s fourth career start.  She didn’t lose much zip in the figure column from age two (winning the G3 Schuylerville) to age three (winning the $65K Margate Handicap).

Selections:

#4 MO’ GREEN (10/1)

#5 GOMO (3/1)

#7 OFF THE TRACKS (6/5)

Longshot: There’s no hidden meaning or #2 DOUBLE ENTENDRE (15/1) about the longshot to watch.  DOUBLE ENTENDRE comes from connections that place their runners ambitiously – maybe too ambitiously.  And DOUBLE ENTENDRE has things to like: she won at two turns while not leading at every call with solid fractions.  DOUBLE ENTENDRE though comes from Sam Houston – and many a handicapper will see that Texas oval as well as the presence of owners Loooch Racing and automatically think the gang is here to Instagram the Pegasus statue at Gulfstream.  But DOUBLE ENTENDRE has shown to not need the lead going two turns – a plus in a field with stretchouts.  Switching to a local trainer in Peter Walder is a plus – he’s hitting at 20% for the meet.  Scott Spieth takes the call.  With wrong side of the tracks form and connections that aim high, that’s enough to keep the price up.

Gulfstream Park — Race 14 — G1 Florida Derby — One and one-eighth miles on Dirt — post time 5:48 pm ET

In 2005, Gulfstream Park moved the Florida Derby from a mid-March position two preps away from the Kentucky Derby to five weeks out from the Derby and one prep away.  Offering a million dollars in purse funds and a 100-50-20-10 allotment of Kentucky Derby points, the Florida Derby has been a productive prep since first contested in 1952.  Always at nine furlongs on the dirt, the race counts  Needles (1956), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Spectacular Bid (1979), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Monarchos (2001) as those who took the Florida Derby and later the Kentucky Derby when the Florida Derby was in mid-March.  Since moving to five weeks out, the race has maintained its solid strike rate.  Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), and Orb (2013) have parlayed Florida Derby wins into Kentucky Derby wins five weeks afterward.

Orb makes a professional move on the turn, showing the skills that made him a 2013 Florida Derby winner and in his next start, a Kentucky Derby winner.

Derby Fever has hit South Florida.  This fever can’t be cured with more cowbell, however.  Derby Fever can only be cured with one thing: getting your horse in the gate in the Kentucky Derby. Such is likely why (with laurels to the racing office and stakes coordinator for doing the grunt work) there are ten horses in the Florida Derby – though the public sees it as two horses, MOHAYMEN and NYQUIST, and eight cardboard cutouts.  With twenty points for third, the third place finisher gets a respite to the Derby Fever.  In the here and now they’ll run the Florida Derby as the last race of a marathon fourteen-race card at Gulfstream, with the two undefeated rivals.  The edge among the two horses goes to NYQUIST, who has demonstrated a better ability to handle more honest paces and show more versatility.  NYQUIST has Mario Gutierrez assigned to ride for trainer Doug O’ Neill.  He goes second off the layoff after a solid score in the G2 San Vicente at seven panels to start the year.  Timing of the race makes sense, and so does a one miliion dollar sales bonus.  But the two five week preps makes sense, the sprint-to-route strategy is old school, and he’s shown a gameness that’s admirable in this spot.  MOHAYMEN may be better bred for nine panels than NYQUIST (Both sire and dam won at nine), but the rub against is that he’s done his two-turn work in slow paces and short fields.  Neither is expected to materialize in the Florida Derby (Stretchouts! Speed! Some crazy horse has to want the lead! Gulfstream’s supposed bias!) – making this race a litmus test as to what happens when the pace is more legitimate given that the Kentucky Derby doesn’t see someone try to slow the race down and go :49 to the half.  Even though the pace quickened in the early stages in the G2 Fountain of Youth last time, the come home time was slower.  One wonders whether or not MOHAYMEN is one-paced and might lose too much energy.  Or if he’s at the upper reach of his distance.  But winning the Fountain of Youth puts him in the Derby – and he could pull back and use the race as a prep – something less likely with NYQUIST as NYQUIST has a more tenuous point situation.  MOHAYMEN is a must on the multi-race wagers and a must up-and-down the exotic ladder but offers ziltch in the way of wagering value.  So does NYQUIST, but the edge goes to the west in this match-up.  Beyond the big two we turn a trainer with a penchant for crashing parties with high-odds horses in three-year-old races: Nick Zito.  Zito trains FELLOWSHIP FREDDY.  His only try at nine furlongs saw him prematurely break the gate latch.  In the race he was on the lead then backpedaled to fourth.  A winner at two at Delaware, he’s winless at three.  But he hasn’t had a chance to run a race cleanly at three with wide trips, bumper cars, and gate issues getting the better of him.  Perhaps with a clean race he puts it together.  On figures he’s run close to the Delaware start with impediments.  Zito also does best when flying under the radar (think Dale Romans), and with all the press on the two, that could set it up for FASHIONABLE FREDDY’s potential progression and clean representative race.

Selections:

#4 NYQUIST (6/5)

#9 MOHAYMEN (1/1)

#8 FASHIONABLE FREDDY (30/1)

Longshot:  The Florida Derby has played to chalk and logic (higher than the 33% strike rate typically used for most racetracks as a bellwether), but there have been longhots (Merit Man, Reveron, Dialed In, Shackleford) that have snuck into the exotics at balloon odds.  And if you believe this is a two-horse race, then someone has to finish third.  It’s fair enough to call FASHIONABLE FREDDY a longshot (in fact, anyone except NYQUIST or MOHAYMEN qualifies).  But this space goes for the home cooking and #3 MAJESTO (20/1).  Javier Castellano has the assigment for Gustavo Delgado.  In a race with legitimate speed (from stretchouts like TAKEITOTHEEDGE), perhaps this closer gets the targets needed.  While MAJESTO is a swing-wide, hope-for-a-clear trip closer, that’s what worked out last time as he graduated over the Gulfstream oval.  His four starts at Gulfstream have seen a win and three money finishes, showing an affinity for the course.  That affinity means a lot when Gulfstream form when some runners can’t run a step on it – or away from it.

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