Florida Derby Picks

Florida Derby favorites look solid in toughest Kentucky Derby prep to date

2011 Road to the Kentucky Derby

by Kenneth Strong, Horse Handicapper, Predictem.com

Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, Race 10, Sunday, April 3, 2011

3-Year-Olds, Grade I, 1 1/8 Miles, Dirt, Purse $1 million

Florida Derby Picks

1. Dialed In

2. Soldat

3. To Honor and Serve

4. Flashpoint

Longshots: Arch Traveler, Stay Thirsty

Soldat should be the slight favorite when he faces seven rivals in the 60th running of the Florida Derby-G1 at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, but theres no question hes facing better than he has so far this year. The 2011 Florida Derby shapes up as the toughest Kentucky Derby weve seen to date, and winning it will not be easy.

In both of his starts as a 3-year-old, Soldat has made the lead early, rated, turned back rivals and drawn away in the stretch. Hes proven at the distance and the track, having won the Fountain of Youth-G2 at the Florida Derby distance of 1 1/8-miles at Gulfstream Park on February 26, and hes been working exceptionally well for this race. The problem is that he is unlikely to get the lead on Sunday due to the presence of Hutcheson-G2 winner Flashpoint.

On paper the Florida Derby sets up with Flashpoint opening a clear lead early and Soldat tracking him from a few lengths back. Its assumed that Soldat will engage Flashpoint on the lead at some point after half a mile has been run, especially if Flashpoint tries to slow it down early. The likely scenario is that Soldat turns up the heat on Flashpoint heading into the final turn, puts him away in early stretch and then tries to hold off Dialed In, To Honor and Serve and maybe Stay Thirsty, who gets blinkers added for this race.

A proven class rallier on turf, Soldat finished second in both the Pilgrim-G3 and the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf-G1 last year, but he still has to prove he can rally and dig in when it counts from off the pace on the dirt. And even Soldat does prove to be an adept rallier on the dirt, if he decides to let Flashpoint go unhampered rating on the lead for more than six furlongs, he might not be able to catch him. Despite Flashpoints apparent sprint pedigree, hes trained by magic man Richard Dutrow, and we all know how dangerous lone speed can be.

Dialed In looked good rallying to win the Holy Bull-G3 going a mile at Gulfstream Park in his first start back off a two-month layoff and followed that up with a slightly subpar effort in a condition allowance race going the Florida Derby distance on March 6. But there was a slow pace in that last start and he also might have bounced off his Holy Bull win. Dialed In could very easily come back into best form in his third start off the layoff, but he will still likely need a pressured pace to win this.

To Honor and Serve made his first start back of a three-month layoff in the Fountain of Youth and made a decent run at Soldat on the final turn before justifiably tiring. Another who likes to be close to the lead as proven by his wire-to-wire wins in the Nashua-G2 and Remsen-G2 at Aqueduct as a 2-year-old, To Honor and Serve could also move to pressure Flashpoint and Soldat on the final turn. Trainer Bill Mott is one of the best in the business and he thinks To Honor and Serve will run much better in this race than he did in his opener. While we agree, we also think he might also help set the race up for Dialed In.

Stay Thirsty looked okay winning the Gotham-G3 going a mile and sixteenth at Aqueduct off a four-month layoff, and while were not quite sure he has the class to defeat this bunch, he certainly has the right running style and he also gets blinkers on for the first time. Theres a chance he could bounce off his opener, but the race will set up for him tough call.

If youre looking for a sleeper in here Arch Traveler might be your play. Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, hes trained by future Hall of Famer Jimmy Jerkens and hes been progressing nicely. He won his last two starts at Gulfstream Park from just off the pace and his last win on February 26 came at the Florida Derby distance. Hes only started four times and he now makes a big move up in class, but

Rounding out the field are Bowmans Causeway, who could slip into the superfecta if the race completely collapses after a multi-horse battle on the final turn, and Shackleford, who was beaten 23 -lengths in the Fountain of Youth by Soldat.

There are two ways to bet this race. You can take a shot on Flashpoint as the lone speed at a decent price, especially if speed is holding well throughout the day. Or you can play a proven rallier like Dialed In and hope an all-out battle develops on the final turn between Flashpoint, Soldat, To Honor and Serve and Arch Traveler. Thats what well be doing.

Good Luck!