Two of the last three Kentucky Derby winners have come out of the Florida Derby, so this race demands our respect for at least that reason. Though the field is not overly-deep from top to bottom, the three big horses are legitimate Triple Crown threats.
Before the analysis, just a reminder that due to the Dubai World Cup, which is on Saturday morning, the live blog will be on Friday from noon-1 p.m. EDT this week. Be sure to join me here for the chat so we can discuss the Florida Derby and other Kentucky Derby happenings in depth.
1. Toby The Coal Man: Lapenta and Zito will try to pull a stunner with another late-bloomer, but it probably won't happen here. This $290,000 yearling needed six tries to break his maiden, which he did by a nose March 5 going 1 1/8 miles. Does get Leparoux for the first time and I suppose he could hit the board if everything went right. But would be a shocker any way you look at it.
2. Quality Road: The horse to beat as far as I'm concerned. His Fountain of Youth was visually impressive and earned big numbers. Proved he can stalk the pace, so I'm not sure the Pletcher rabbit will do anything but help him. The main question he has to answer is distance, but it doesn't look to be major problem. Jerkens breezed him seven furlongs the other day and is a master at getting horses to stretch out. Draws an ideal post and unless he bounces big time, should be able to have things his own way for much of the race. No doubt in my mind he'll have the lead at the top of the lane, but can he hold it? Remember, Gulfstream has been a speed favoring track all meet. Will be tough to beat.
3. Casey's On Call: This one looks faster than the rabbit entered by Pletcher, so should be part of the early pace scenario. Makes his second start for a new trainer and goes turf to dirt. Distance looks to be a real concern, as his best work has come sprinting. Can't see it.
4. Dunkirk: Yes, his first two starts were convincing and he showed nice professionalism in his allowance win, when he was caught five-wide on the first turn. Yes, he comes from winning connections, has a nice pedigree, has worked very well coming into the race, gets top jock Gomez and is proven over this strip, at this distance. These are all things to like. But none of the horses he beat in either race have gone on to do anything note and he'll get a big-time class check. Plus, his allowance win wasn't that fast (1:50.15). I've watched both races a number of times and I'm not seeing what everyone else is - certainly no Big Brown comparison. Can he win this? Absolutely. There is definitely talent there. But I'm willing to try to beat him at 9-5 and unless he does something freaky here, I'll try to beat him again on May 2nd - if he makes it. There is a reason no horse without a 2-year-old start has won the Derby since 1882. Yes, 1882.
5. Sincero: Been struggling in allowance company in his last three - all at Gulfstream. Only flash of brilliance was at Calder in his 6 1/2-length maiden win in November. Has faced some good horses, including Take the Points and Big Drama, and did turn in a bullet work on March 21, but that was at Calder too. Bottom of exotics at most.
6. Theregoesjojo: Of all the Derby contenders to this point, he seems to have more explosiveness and better turn of foot than anyone. His big move around the turn in his allowance win against Quality Road was special and he did it again in the Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately, Desormeaux took him four-wide into the stretch for no good reason and it was too much to overcome. The 4 1/4-length margin was very deceiving. He closed ground well on Quality Road and if he can show the same thing going two turns, he will be a star. A true closer, he should receive a hot pace to run at. Hopefully, he won't be too far back on this speedy strip. Note that McPeek has been winning at a 27% clip this meet and you can bet he'll have him ready, especially since he's going against Danger to Society, who was taken from him last month. The pick.
7. Danger to Society: Speak of the devil, this one was all the talk after winning by 3 1/2 lengths in a two-turn allowance on Jan. 8. Not sure what happened in his failed Holy Bull try, but the owners obviously didn't like it and sent him to Dutrow. Has shown average works since then. I guess he could surprise, but I don't like the layoff or the set up. He's not fast enough to stay with some of the others and hasn't shown a big closing kick since his maiden win in November.
8. Europe: A $2.6 million rabbit entered by Pletcher to ensure that Quality Road stays honest. Didn't show much speed in his debut, but his sharp March 23 work indicates he might have that capability. Not much else to mention.
9. Stately Character: Has faced some decent company, including This Ones for Phil a couple times, Free Country and West Side Bernie. Was last when facing Dunkirk in an allowance on Feb. 19. Showed improvement three weeks ago when finishing runner-up in a nine-furlong allowance. And has a nice work at Calder a couple days ago. Has made his last four starts at this distance, so that's a plus. Wouldn't be surprised if he hit the board at a price.
Selections: Someone will have to do something special to run down Quality Road. If it's anyone, I'm betting it will be Theregoesjojo. It will be the first two-turn test for both of them, but I'm expecting neither will have a problem with the distance, so that won't be an excuse. I'll play a small win bet on Theregoesjojo, who is kind of flying under the radar and should be about 5-1 by post, and an exacta box with JoJo and Quality Road.