Earlier on Saturday, the Derby trail winds through Dubai; we preview the UAE Derby (G2) (and, of course, the G1 Dubai World Cup) in a separate piece. Saturday afternoon, Chicago time, the Derby trail and the Oaks trail return stateside, to Gulfstream Park. Their three-year-old preps — and their winter Championship meet — draw to a close with the Florida Derby (G1) and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
The Florida Derby, particularly, has long been a top-flight Kentucky Derby prep. Its importance has been as strong as ever in recent years. In the five editions of the Kentucky Derby since the points system started, three Florida Derby winners have earned the roses a month later, and several of this year’s top contenders will take their final tune-up in Hallandale Beach.
Morning lines for the Gulfstream Park Oaks were not available at original publish time.
Race 12: Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:22pm EDT
The Gulfstream Park Oaks was originally run as the Bonnie Miss Stakes, starting in 1971. The race was inaugurated as a seven-furlong turf race open to ages three and up. It was restricted to three-year-old fillies only in 1974, and again from 1977 to the present day. It was also moved from the grass to the dirt for good that same year. In its first decade of existence it wavered between being a sprint and a route, but was run at 1 1/16 miles from 1981 through 2000. It was a nine furlong race from 2001 through 2014; nowadays, it is run back at its previous eight-and-a-half-furlong distance. Throughout its history, three winners of the Gulfstream Park Oaks have gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks: Dispute (1993), Open Mind (1989), and Hall of Fame inductee Davona Dale (1979). Davona Dale has been memorialized at Gulfstream Park; the local prep to this race has been named after her since 1987.
This year’s edition of the Gulfstream Park Oaks offers a $250,000 purse, as well as 100, 40, 20, and 10 Kentucky Oaks points to the top four finishers.
Part of me has been wondering why BLONDE BOMBER hasn’t been on the Gulfstream spur of the Kentucky Oaks trail all winter long. She has done so much of her best work over the course; as it can be a little love-it-or-hate-it, it seems a natural fit to return when it offers Oaks points. The fear, given BLONDE BOMBER’s performance at Fair Grounds and Tampa, is that she might just be a Gulfstream Park Horse. But, even if her strong performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was a one-off? Here she returns to a course she loves, and she should get an honest pace to run at thanks to the likes of EIGHT THIRTYONE, COACH ROCKS, SILVER BAY, and perhaps C. S. INCHARGE. This looks like the time to try and catch BLONDE BOMBER at a price.
TAKE CHARGE PAULA has been a consistent performer through her career: in eight starts, she has been in the exacta seven times, including five wins. That includes two wins and a second at Gulfstream. Though TAKE CHARGE PAULA won’t be too far from the honest pace, she should have it well in range, and looks likely to be the one who gets first run. One question is the distance; her one off-the-board finish was her only try at this mile and a sixteenth distance, that was last September, in only her third career start, and her first at a route. She also had some trip trouble that day. TAKE CHARGE PAULA has had time since to grow into herself, and this seems a better time for her to address the two-turn question. The other question is the rider; Paco Lopez has taken the call on TAKE CHARGE PAULA in all seven of her starts in which she finished in the exacta, but he rides Aqueduct on Saturday. That seems a bit bizarre, but the filly does get Jose Ortiz in the irons, a strong rider both at Gulfstream and in general.
DAISY and CACHE both got strong consideration for this last slot. CACHE impressed on her seven-furlong debut, but didn’t quite have it late in the Davona Dale (G2) last out. She may improve here, third time out, but this space is interested in a horse with a bit more bottom to her, and that’s DAISY. DAISY has run four times so far, including three starts in stakes company. Last out, she finished second beaten three quarters of a length by C. S. INCHARGE. Of course, she has tables to turn on that one here, but the was she was running on late proved that DAISY wasn’t a one-way speed horse despite leading at every call in her two victories last year. That should help here, since there are several who could vie for the front in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. John Velazquez returns to the irons on DAISY, and should know Gulfstream well enough to time the move perfectly. This makes her a threat.
#6 BLONDE BOMBER
#3 TAKE CHARGE PAULA
Longshot: #12 MIHRAB has some tables to turn here, as last out in the Suncoast Stakes she finished third behind C. S. INCHARGE and DAISY. But, she has a right to improve at longshot odds. She puts blinkers on — and given trainer Graham Motion’s 21% win rate (and slightly positive ROI) with first-time blinkers, it’s a move to watch for the barn. That should also get MIHRAB a bit closer to the pace than she has been in her outings at Tampa and Laurel, a positive given that being too far out of it at Gulfstream rarely proves advantageous. As long as they don’t put MIHRAB right on the pace, she should be well served. The stretch to a mile and a sixteenth should also serve MIHRAB well. She is by Tiznow out of a Pulpit mare who has already produced a nine-furlong winner, suggesting the distance will bring even better form out of her.
Race 14: Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:30pm EDT
Instituted in 1952, the Florida Derby has been limited to three-year-olds and run at 1 1/8 miles over the Gulfstream Park dirt ever since. Through its history, the Florida Derby has been a rich source of Kentucky Derby winners. Fifteen Florida Derby winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Needles (1956), Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Forward Pass (1968), Spectacular Bid (1979), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017).
Though the 1966 edition of the race did not produce a Kentucky Derby winner, it remains of particular local interest. Williamston Kid had gotten the best of Illinois-bred Abe’s Hope in 1965 in the Hawthorne Juvenile Stakes. They met again the following year in the Florida Derby. Abe’s Hope crossed the wire first, but was disqualified to fourth for ducking into Sky Guy at the eighth pole. This left his old nemesis Williamston Kid on top once again, winning the race at the longest odds in Florida Derby history: 90/1. The 2012 Florida Derby also had a local flavour. Take Charge Indy, owned by Chicago-area locals Chuck and Maribeth Sandford, won the race wire to wire. He had graduated at first asking over the Arlington main track the year before, and finished second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) behind Shared Property. Though he now stands stud in South Korea, Take Charge Indy looms large on the three-year-old trails this year, with Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy part of his first crop, as well as and Gulfstream Park Oaks contenders Take Charge Paula and C. S. Incharge.
Take Charge Indy holds safe in the 2012 Florida Derby.
This year’s edition of the race offers a purse of $1,000,000, as well as 100, 40, 20, and 10 Road to the Kentucky Derby points for its top four finishers. Though it came so early in the prep season, it’s hard to point out a more impressive Kentucky Derby prep performance this year than AUDIBLE’s easy score in the Holy Bull (G2), except for possibly the McKinzie vs. Bolt d’Oro throwdown in the San Felipe (G1). And, if AUDIBLE runs back to that in the Florida Derby (G1), he ought to win. The Holy Bull win proved he could handle Gulfstream, and his victories in his last three starts have shown that he has the tactical speed and versatility that should serve him well here. The front end should be honest: PROMISES FULFILLED stands to go, STRIKE POWER is nigh-on forced to send from the rail, and MISSISSIPPI should be forward (both based on his running lines and on the blinkers-on move). In short? AUDIBLE will be the favourite, but he looks like the goods; this space sees no good reason to get too cute and oppose him.
CATHOLIC BOY got a breather after a close second in the Sam F. Davis (G3), and comes back at Gulfstream instead of contesting the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He has kept classy company both last year and this year, and though he hasn’t raced on the Gulfstream main yet, he has run five credible races over five different courses — suggesting he can run anywhere. CATHOLIC BOY also has a solid running style for this race, able to sit somewhere a few lengths off the speed and make a well-timed move. Two other things really jump out and make him look a contender here. For one, he is the only one in the field who has a win at a mile and an eighth; he won the Remsen (G2) last year. Secondly, he gets a rider change to Irad Ortiz — who not only boasts a 24% win rate at Gulfstream, but who turns up here instead of on PROMISES FULFILLED, who he piloted to victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last out. Though beating AUDIBLE looks a tall task for anyone, CATHOLIC BOY has the best resume among spoiler candidates.
For the third slot, it was a close pick between a pair of runners from the Dale Romans barn. PROMISES FULFILLED comes in off a win in the Fountain of Youth. He’s an honest enough sort that it would be no surprise to see him try, and at least get a piece. But, last out was the wedding — this is the funeral, and at a short price, it’s hard to love him on top with STRIKE POWER and MISSISSIPPI around to make it tougher for him early. Instead, STORM RUNNER has more upside at a better price. The 20/1 morning line doesn’t look likely to happen; everyone and their grandmother knows what a bad trip he had in the Fountain of Youth, and that he was seventh beaten sixteen lengths in that race only after stopping and starting several times behind horses. He also may have regressed a bit after a big effort in an allowance two back. Now, STORM RUNNER returns with a new rider, sharp Gulfstream local Tyler Gaffalione. With a pedigree that has a right to get nine furlongs, if STORM RUNNER can stalk, pounce, and show what he did two back, he stands to be in the picture.
#8 AUDIBLE (9/5)
#6 CATHOLIC BOY (7/2)
#5 STORM RUNNER (20/1)
Longshot: Bill Mott sends out recent maiden winner #7 HOFBURG (20/1) for his stakes debut in the Florida Derby. Of course, it’s a difficult ask to face this classy and more experienced company fresh off a maiden race. But, HOFBURG has enough upside to suggest he can take the reasonable step forward he needs to compete here. His maiden win on March 3 was his first outing since a fourth-place debut at Saratoga, and was his first try going two turns. He keeps rider Jose Ortiz from that outing, and could improve second off the lay. HOFBURG also acted up a bit at the gate, suggesting that if he has his mind a little more right this time around, he’ll conserve a bit more energy for the actual race. Finally, being a Tapit half to Emollient (a G1 winner at nine furlongs on synthetic, and at even longer on turf), the stretch out to nine furlongs (and beyond) should fit HOFBURG well.
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