FLORIDA / SOLDAT DRAWS RAIL AGAIN, BUT STILL STRONG FLORIDA DERBY FAVORITE – Fountain of Youth (Grade II) winner Soldat drew the rail post and was assigned the role of favorite in a strong field of eight 3-year-olds entered for Sunday’s 60th running of the  $1 million Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park.

            The 1 1/8 mile race shapes up as one of the most competitive and intriguing preps on the road the 137th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), which is scheduled for Saturday, May 7 at Churchill Downs.

            The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Soldat, who has a record of 3-4-0 in seven races, is the 9-5 morning line favorite over an accomplished field in the Florida Derby. Alan Garcia will ride the son of sizzling young sire War Front, who also broke from post one in his victory in the Fountain of Youth. 

            Soldat’s rivals in the Florida Derby include To Honor and Serve (4-1), who won the Remsen (GII) in November at Aqueduct but finished third in the Fountain of Youth for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in his 2011 debut, and the Nick Zito-trainedDialed In, the 2-1 second choice and a dazzling winner in the Holy Bull (GIII).  Dialed In was upset by older rival and Zito-trained stablemate Equestrio in a Gulfstream allowance race at the Florida Derby distance last time out.  Garrett Gomez will ride To Honor and Serve, while Julien Leparoux rides Dialed In.

            A question mark in the field is unbeaten Flashpoint, who romped to a 7 ¼-length victory in the Hutcheson (GII) last time out and figures to set the pace from the outside post in the Florida Derby.  Trained by Rick Dutrow, who saddled Big Brown to win the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Flashpoint is listed at 6-1 in the morning line and will be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez.      

            Another horse to watch in the Florida Derby is Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty, the winner of the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct in his 2011 debut for trainer Todd Pletcher.  The stablemate of unbeaten juvenile champion and Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mois an 8-1 risk under jockey John Velazquez.

            Arch Traveler, a 20-1 shot trained by Jimmy Jerkens, is coming off a pair of wins at Gulfstream Park.  The Florida Derby field is rounded out by Bowman’s Causeway (20-1) and Shackleford (20-1).

            The Florida Derby is scheduled as Sunday’s 10th race with a post time of 5:42 (EDT).

             Also on Sunday, the Todd Pletcher-trained Travelin Man will look to rebound from a lopsided loss to Flashpoint as the odd-son in the Hutcheson when he starts as the morning line favorite in the $150,000 Swale (GIII) at six furlongs.    His rivals include Little Drama and Razmataz, the 3-4 finishers in the Hutcheson.                                                                             

Florida Derby Odds and Ends: After a one-year experiment at six weeks out of the Kentucky Derby, the Florida Derby returns to five weeks before the first Saturday in May, a spot first tried in 2005. Prior to that, it was historically positioned seven or eight weeks before Derby … The 1 1/8-mile race received a $250,000 boost to $1 million purse, which was its value from 2001-08 … Inaugurated in 1952, the race has produced 21 Kentucky Derby winners, including a dozen who won both races: Dark Star (who finished 13th in the 1953 Florida Derby), Needles (1st in 1956), Iron Liege (3rd in 1957), Tim Tam (1st in 1958), Venetian Way (2nd in 1960), Carry Back (1st in 1961),Northern Dancer (1st in 1964), Kauai King (5th in 1966), Forward Pass (1st in 1968),Cannonade (2nd in 1974), Foolish Pleasure (3rd in 1975), Spectacular Bid (1st in 1979), Pleasant Colony (5th in 1981), Swale (1st in 1984), Unbridled (1st in 1990),Strike the Gold (2nd in 1991), Go for Gin (4th in 1994), Thunder Gulch (1st in 1995),Monarchos (1st in 2001), Barbaro (1st in 2006) and Big Brown (1st in 2008) … Only one horse exited the race last year to run in the Derby: winner Ice Box, who finished second to Super Saver in the Derby … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 75-7-7-3 … Gen. Duke (1957) holds the stakes record of 1:46.80 … Holy Bull (1994) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (115); Friends Lake (2004) recorded the lowest (92). 


SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / SWAY AWAY SIZZLES IN OAKLAWN WORK – Southern California-based Sway Away, a disappointing sixth behind The Factor in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes (GIII), looked much sharper Thursday morning when he turned in a strong five-furlong work for trainer Jeff Bonde over a “fast” surface at the Hot Springs, Ark. track.

            Sway Away covered the distance in :59.60 under jockey Luis Quinonez.

            “It was just a maintenance work,” Bonde said.  “Luis said he just sort of let the horse do it on his own.”

            Bonde left Sway Away at Oaklawn to prepare for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 16.

            There is a possible excuse for the dull run in the Rebel by Sway Away, who had impressed in his previous race in a strong runner-up finish to The Factor in Santa Anita’s San Vicente (GII).  The son of Afleet Alex hit the gate and lost a tooth at the start of the Rebel, then encountered some traffic problems on the first turn.

            Meanwhile, J P’s Gusto, a disappointing seventh in the Rebel, prepared for an Arkansas Derby run with a sparkling five-furlong work on Thursday at Oaklawn in :58.60 – the fastest move at the distance. 

Trainer Joe Petalino said J P’s Gusto, a multiple stakes winner in Southern California at two but winless in two races at Oaklawn Park, would have a new rider in veteran Cliff Berry for his run in the Arkansas Derby. 

WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) – SCHEDULES FOR BAFFERT’S KENTUCKY HOPES STILL IN THE AIR – Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainerBob Baffert continues to lean toward a run in the Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 16 for his very fast The Factor, but continues to juggle options for his stretch-running Derby hope Jaycito.

            Baffert’s first experience with Jaycito came in a distant runner-up finish toPremier Pegasus in the San Felipe.  His options for the son of 1998 Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Victory Gallop include the $1 million Santa Anita Derby and the $1 million Wood Memorial at New York’s Aqueduct.  Both races are scheduled next Saturday, April 9, and the plane that would carry Jaycito to New York departs on Monday.

            “I don’t have to make any decisions right now and I’m not going to,” Baffert said Wednesday.  “I know one thing: the horse needs more ground.  The horse needs a mile and a quarter.”

            That, of course, is the distance of the Kentucky Derby.

            With or without Jaycito, the Santa Anita Derby is shaping up as a competitive and crowded race headed by owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho’s Premier Pegasus.  Other likely starters include El Camino Real Derby (GIII) winner Silver Medallion, Robert B. Lewis (GII) winner Anthony’s Cross, CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Comma to the Top, California-bred stakes winner Bench PointsIndian WinterMr. CommonsQuail HillCelestic Night and Offlee Wild Boys.

EAST (New York, Maryland) – CHAMPION UNCLE MO HEADS PROBABLE STARTERS FOR WOOD MEMORIAL – Repole Stable’s Uncle Mo, the unbeaten 2-year-old champion of 2010, heads the roster of likely starters in the $1 million Resorts World new York Casino Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on Saturday, April 9.

            The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Indian Charlie scored an easy win under regular rider John Velazquez in Gulfstream Park’s $100,000 Timely Writer at a mile in his first start since a romp in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) in early November at Churchill Downs.  The Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old male has yet to be tested in his four career start and figures to be a heavy favorite in his final Kentucky Derby prep.

            Other horses listed as “probable” for the Wood include Gotham runner-upNorman Asbjornson, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Duca and Isn’t He Perfect.  “Possible” Wood Memorial contenders include the Bob Baffert-trained Jaycito, Gotham third-place finisher Toby’s Corner, and Timely Writer runne-up Rattlesnake Bridge.

            Eleven Wood Memorial winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, including Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (1930), Count Fleet (1943), Assault(1946) and Seattle Slew (1977).  Legendary Secretariat finished third to his Lucien Laurin-trained stablemate Angle Light in the 1973 Wood, but bounced back to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. 

THIRTEEN LATE NOMINATIONS TO TRIPLE CROWN INCLUDE ONE EUROPEAN – Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner Watch Me Go, Gotham runner-up Norman Asbjornson and Rushaway winner Swift Warrior were among 13 horses made eligible to run in the Triple Crown during the late nomination period that ended on March 26.

Those horses were nominated at a cost of $6,000 each are now eligible to run in the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) at Churchill Downs, the $1 million Preakness at Pimlico and the $1 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.

            The addition of 13 horses to the roster of nominees to the 2011 Triple Crown nomination roster brings the total number of nominees to 377. 

            Other late nominees included Beer MeisterBowman’s CausewayJoe’s Blazing AaronLagoon of DiamondsNacho SaintRuler On IceSaratoga Red,Smoke It RightTruman’s Commander and War Pact.

            The latter is one of two European-based 3-year-olds considered “possible” for the 137th Kentucky Derby. 

            War Pact, owned by American Joseph Allen, is ineligible for Europe’s classic races because he is a gelding.  He has won two of three races for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget on synthetic Fibresand courses in France at Deauville and Cagnes-sur-Mer, but has no graded stakes earnings.

            “He will run in the Prix de Suresnes at Maisons-Laffitte on April 18,” Rouget told Alan Shuback of the Daily Racing Form.  “After that we will make a decision about America.”

            The other European considered “possible” for the Kentucky Derby is Master of Hounds, the close runner-up to the talented filly Khawlah in the $2 million UAE Derby (GII) at Dubai’s Meydan Race Course last week.

            The son of Kingmambo, an early Triple Crown nominee who finished sixth to Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs, has returned to trainerAidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle training center in Ireland.

            Master of Hounds has earned $441,884 in graded stakes races, a total that should easily secure a spot for the colt in the Kentucky Derby starting gate should O’Brien decide in favor of a trip to Churchill Downs.

FINAL KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER POOL OPENS FRIDAY, COMMA TO THE TOP OUT – The third and final pool of Churchill Downs 2011 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KOFW”) opens its three-day run on Friday, April 1 at noon (all time EDT) with unbeaten Uncle Mo as its strong 3-1 favorite.

            The roster of betting interests in the KDFW Pool 3 was reduced to 23 on Thursday when Comma to the Top was withdrawn from the pool.  Trainer Peter Millertold Churchill Downs officials that Comma to the Top was unlikely to run in the Kentucky Derby and would probably get a rest after a run in next week’s Santa Anita Derby.

            With the departure of Comma to the Top, KDFW Pool 3’s wagering roster includes 22 individual horses and the mutuel field, which consists of all 3-year-olds other than the individual betting interests in the pool.

            Betting on the three-day pool at racetracks, off-track betting centers,TwinSpires.com and other advance deposit wagering platforms is scheduled to close at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 3

            Mutuel payouts on the $2 win and exacta bets in the pool will be determined by the odds that are in place at the conclusion of wagering in the pool.