Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity winner Dullahan will take his first step on the Kentucky Derby trail in Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes over the Gulfstream Park turf course. Although the Dale Romans trainee will face only five rivals in the 1 1/8-mile affair, he will have to catch a talented front runner in Howe Great.
Dullahan already has a couple of Kentucky Derby associations. A half-brother to 2009 Derby shocker Mine That Bird, he has the same connections as Paddy O'Prado, the third-place finisher in the 2010 Run for the Roses.
Likewise owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Romans, Dullahan is following the same path as Paddy O'Prado, who captured the 2010 Palm Beach and finished second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland en route to Churchill Downs.
Dullahan is a fair bit ahead of the curve, however, compared to where Paddy O'Prado was at this point in 2010. Paddy O'Prado was still a maiden going into the Palm Beach, and had been unplaced in his only career dirt start before the Derby. The beginning of Dullahan's juvenile campaign closely resembled Paddy O'Prado's. Dullahan had been well beaten in his first two dirt attempts, just missed in a turf maiden at Saratoga, and checked in third in the Grade 2 With Anticipation.
Unlike Paddy O'Prado, Dullahan raced twice more at two, gaining valuable seasoning and proving his class. Dullahan broke his maiden in the Breeders' Futurity over Keeneland's Polytrack, a victory that catapulted him into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the Churchill dirt. Troubled at the start and last of 13 early, Dullahan closed stoutly to get up for fourth.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile has been a key race on the Derby trail this season. Juvenile winner Hansen romped in the Grade 3 Gotham last Saturday; runner-up Union Rags dominated the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth; 10th-placer Drill landed the Grade 2 San Vicente, where Juvenile third Creative Cause was a late-running third; Juvenile 11th Alpha ran away with both the Grade 3 Withers and Count Fleet; and Prospective, the trailer in the Juvenile, has come back to win the Pasco and take second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis.
Dullahan will try to bolster the trend on Sunday. Returning to turf for the first time since the With Anticipation at Saratoga last summer, the closer will reunite with regular rider Kent Desormeaux and will break from the middle of the field in post 3.
The early tactical advantage figures to go to Howe Great. Perfect from two starts on turf, both at Gulfstream, the Graham Motion pupil wired a December 15 allowance and the January 21 Kitten's Joy in convincing fashion. The Team Valor International homebred had previously broken his maiden in a dirt sprint at Parx, and thus brings a three-race winning streak into his graded debut.
Howe Great promises to flash early speed from the rail with John Velazquez. The son of Japanese champion Hat Trick figures to control the pace throughout, but Csaba could try to apply a modicum of pressure. A two-time winner in the slop at Calder, Csaba set the pace in the December 18 Dania Beach here before fading to fifth. The Phil Gleaves colt comes off a throw-out performance in the Fountain of Youth, where he never recovered from a bad stumble at the break. Paco Lopez regains the mount.
The Wayne Catalano-trained Coalport looms as a dark horse in his sophomore debut. The Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred has smart turf form to his credit, with a close second in the Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland and a strong fourth in the Dania Beach. Those efforts book-ended a troubled 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Julien Leparoux will be back in the saddle.
Coalport and Csaba are by Kitten's Joy, winner of the Palm Beach during his championship campaign in 2004. Kitten's Joy has sired half of the field, including Scorcher, who was fifth in the Kitten's Joy two starts back.
Rounding out the field is multiple stakes-placed Argentine Tango. Disqualified from an impressive last-to-first score in an optional claimer here on December 26, the Stanley Gold trainee has hit the board just once in three subsequent outings -- a distant third behind subsequent Grade 2 Risen Star winner El Padrino and Take Charge Indy on the main track.