FLORIDA / RULE FAVORED OVER PROMISING FOES IN FLORIDA DERBY -- WinStar Farm’s streaking Rule looks to move onto the short list of major contenders for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) On May 1 at Churchill Downs when he steps up to face an intriguing collection of up and coming 3-year-olds in Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park.

The homebred son of Roman Ruler will seek his fifth consecutive victory for trainer Todd Pletcher as he assumes the Florida Derby spotlight from barnmate Eskendereya, the winner of Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth (GII) who will pass Saturday’s race in favor of a run in the Wood Memorial (GI) on April 3 at New York’s Aqueduct.

John Velazquez will be in the saddle aboard Rule, who is the 5-2 favorite in a field of 11 following victories in the Delta Jackpot (GIII) at Delta Downs and the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs.    Rule drew post seven in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.

Most of Rule’s Florida Derby opponents are unproven and lightly raced horses looking to enhance their credentials and build their bankroll of graded stakes earnings on the road to the Kentucky Derby, which is now just 43 days away.  The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters with preference given to horses with the highest total earnings in graded stakes races.

Foremost among that group of rising stars could be IEAH Stable’s Radiohead (3-1), a British import who scored an impressive victory in his debut on dirt in a Jan. 27 allowance race at Gulfstream.  The son of Johannesburg finished a troubled seventh in his first start for his new owners in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.  His victory in his first race of 2010 came in his debut for new trainer Rick Dutrow, who won the 2008 Kentucky Derby with Big Brown.  Edgar Prado will ride Radiohead.

Another youngster of considerable interest is Lael Stables’ Lentenor (6-1), the homebred brother of ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.  Michael Matz, who trained Barbaro, will saddle Lentenor for his first race on dirt.  Alan Garcia will ride Lentenor, who enters the race off a runner-up finish in an allowance race on grass last time out.

Other horses looking to boost their Kentucky Derby prospects with a big effort include Miner’s Reserve (6-1), who is coming off an impressive maiden win for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito; First Dude (8-1), runner-up in a strong allowance race at Gulfstream for trainer Dale Romans; and Soaring Empire (20-1), a strong Gulfstream Park allowance winner for the Ol’ Memorial Stables of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and Louisville attorney C.E. Glasscock.  The latter is trained by Cam Gambolati, who won the 1985 Kentucky Derby with Spend A Buck.

D’Funnybone Favored In Swale – Paul Pompa Jr.’s D’Funnybone, a sharp winner of the seven-furlong Hutcheson (GII) in his 2010 debut, seeks another win at that distance in Saturday’s $150,000 Swale Stakes (GII) on Gulfstream’s Florida Derby undercard.

D’Funnybone will face eight rivals in the Swale. Edgar Prado, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby aboard Barbaro, will ride D’Funnybone for trainer Rick Dutrow.

A major player could be Evelyn and Darrell Yates’ Dixie Band, the winner of the 2009 Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) at Arlington Park who makes his first start of 2010 for trainer Wayne Catalano.  Julien Leparoux will ride Dixie Band.

EAST / ESKENDEREYA SET FOR RUN IN WOOD, ‘CAT’ FAVORED AT LAUREL – A revision in plans by Zayat Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher for Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya has resulted in a significant change in the landscape for the April 3 Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct, New York’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Originally targeted for Saturday’s Florida Derby, the son of Giant’s Causeway is now set for the 1 1/8-mile Wood, which is run just four weeks before the big event at Churchill Downs.

“I wasn’t comfortable with the six weeks to the Kentucky Derby, and more important, I want to give him a tough race to see what he’s made of,” owner Ahmed Zayat told Blood-Horse.  “Let’s give him the toughest assignment and the right timing.”

Eskendereya’s Wood foes could include Gotham (GIII) winner Awesome Act, Fountain of Youth (GII) runner-up Jackson Bend and Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner Odysseus.

Dutrow’s Don’t Blame The Cat Heads Private Terms – New York invader Don’t Blame the Cat looks for a third successful trip to Maryland when the Rick Dutrow trainee heads a field 11 3-year-olds in Saturday’s $70,000 Private Terms at Maryland’s Laurel Race Course.

Erick Rodriguez has been named to ride the New York-bred son of Catienus, whose two-for-two record this winter at Laurel includes a victory in the Miracle Wood Stakes. Others in the race include unbeaten Plantation and Miracle Wood runner-up Regal Warrior.

SOUTH / DISCREETLY MINE SET FOR RETURN TO LOUISIANA, ‘LUCKY’ LEANING TOWARD ARKANSAS – E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Discreetly Mine, a front-running winner of the Feb. 20 Risen Star (GII) for trainer Todd Pletcher, is expected to return to New Orleans’ Fair Grounds on Saturday, March 27 for the 97th running of the Louisiana Derby (GII).

Others expected for the Louisiana Derby include the Bill Mott-trained Drosselmeyer, fourth as the favorite in the Risen Star; Ron the Greek, the Tom Amoss-trained winner of the Lecomte (GIII); and Richard, Bert and Elaine Klein’s Stay Put, fifth in the Risen Star.

Amoss said Gold Mark Farm’s Backtalk, winner of Louisiana Downs’ Sportsman’s Paradise, could run in the April 3 Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne Park or the Wood Memorial.

WEST / LUCKY BACK TO ARKANSAS? – Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert said Lookin At Lucky, winner of last week’s Rebel (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, could return to the Hot Springs track for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 10.  Baffert is also looking at the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI) as an option for the reigning 2-year-old champion.

“Right now I’m leaning towards the Arkansas Derby,” Baffert said.  “The Arkansas Derby gives me an extra week.  I’ll let the horse tell me."