The Florida Derby is One Prep You Can't Miss


Is anyone out there looking forward to the much Florida Derby as much as I am? The way I see it, it is the most intriguing and important Kentucky Derby prep of the year.


I love the fact that there are so many plot lines:


Will Elysium Fields improve upon his terrific runner-up performance in the Fountain of Youth? Does Big Brown deserve all the hype he is getting and is he is as good as his March 5 allowance romp indicated? How will Peruvian sensation Tomcito stack up against American colts? Is Hey Byrn the real allowance winner we should be focusing on here, not Big Brown? How will Fierce Wind come back after winning the Sam Davis over Big Truck, who is now a proven Derby contender? Is Smooth Air, who seems to be the forgotten one in this field, ready to jump to the top everybody’s contender list?


These are all questions that will be answered this Saturday. What also makes it fun is that all six of them desperately need a big performance if they have any shot at qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. That’s because none of them have more than $90,000 in graded earnings, which will not be enough to qualify come May 3. Because the Florida Derby is a $1million race, a first or second place finish should get it done.


So how will the race come out? Well, here’s my guess.


This is a difficult race to handicap for the simple fact that that you have so many unknowns, as I mentioned above. On the one hand you have Fierce Wind, Smooth Air, Tomcito and to a certain extent, Elysium Fields, who all have proven themselves in stakes competition. Then you have Big Brown and Hey Byrn who haven’t faced anything, but have looked so impressive in their allowance romps.


My gut feeling is that Tomcito is the real deal. This colt has won four of five starts in Peru and has dominated every one, including a 3 ½-length score in the 1 ½-mile Group I Derby Nacional. He has proven undoubtedly that he loves the distance, as three of his four victories have been a mile or more, and he is bred by Street Cry, who I seem to recall not so long ago had a Derby winner. Plus, he has been working exceptionally well since coming to Florida (had a bullet five-furlong, :58.80 work at Gulfstream March 17).


I really think Tomcito has faced more and has been better tested than anyone in here, and that will be the difference. I would not be surprised to see him win by two lengths or more here. If anyone beats Tomcito I am going to say it will be Big Brown. Everyone that I've talked to seems to think this horse is a freak and is primed for a huge race. I know his owners, trainer and jockey feel this way. The questions are, how will he respond against competition that he has never seen and will his inexperience cost him?


I’m going to say that Hey Byrn is over his head, Elysium Fields will bounce, Smooth Air will have trouble with the distance and Fierce Wind will be competitive but won’t have enough.


I am not big on speed figures or rag sheets. I like horses that are well-bred, peaking at the right time, and have been tested at the distance. Tomcito is the one.


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