Despite losing Fountain of Youth S. (G2) winner Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway) to the April 3 Wood Memorial S. (G1) at Aqueduct, Saturday's $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park perhaps benefited in the long run with a bigger field producing a more competitive betting event. Eleven three-year-olds passed the entry box for the 1 1/8-mile contest, which was brought forward one week from its original date so as not to conflict with next Saturday's Louisiana Derby (G2), which is being run later this year than in the recent past.
In the more things change the more they stay the same department, trainer Todd Pletcher will still have the horse to beat in the Florida Derby. Eskendereya's conditioner will instead send out RULE (Roman Ruler), the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) winner who was flattered to an extent by Sam Davis runner-up Schoolyard Dreams' (Stephen Got Even) narrow loss in last weekend's Tampa Bay Derby (G3). The WinStar homebred, who has won three consecutive stakes in wire-to-wire fashion, will likely attempt to do the same over one circuit of Gulfstream's main oval under John Velazquez.
An intriguing newcomer to the classic trail is RADIOHEAD (GB) (Johannesburg), whose career highlight to date was a score in the Norfolk S. (Eng-G2) at Royal Ascot last June. Following a rough-trip seventh in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile (G1), the colt was privately acquired by IEAH Stables and transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow, who saddled the chestnut to a convincing 3 1/4-length allowance score at a mile on dirt over Champagne S. (G1) winner Homeboykris (Roman Ruler) on February 27.
The legacy factor is in play in this year's Florida Derby. LENTENOR (Dynaformer), a full brother to the ill-fated Florida and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Barbaro, will be trying dirt for the first time Saturday after a convincing maiden score and second-place allowance finish over the local turf earlier in the meet. SOARING EMPIRE (Empire Maker), whose sire took this event in 2003, enters with a two-for-three record, the most recent being a seven-furlong allowance win last month.
Another scion of a Florida Derby entrant, ICE BOX (Pulpit), will attempt to improve on his father's second-place effort at 2-5 in the 1997 renewal. The Nick Zito charge made a five-wide bid into contention in the Fountain of Youth before sputtering and finishing fifth, 12 lengths behind Eskendereya. Aside from Ice Box, the only other Fountain of Youth players coming back in the Derby are PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King) and PULSION (Include), who finished fourth and sixth, respectively.
Others climbing up from the overnight ranks to contest the Derby are FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even), a strong second in a course-and-distance allowance on February 21, and MINER'S RESERVE (Mineshaft), a dynamite maiden winner over a mile in his most recent outing. The field is completed by recent maiden graduate GAME ON DUDE (Awesome Again) and BEST ACTOR (Rock Hard Ten), who was third against allowance foes when last seen nearly two months ago.