Entering the Florida Derby, there were a couple key questions that Quality Road had to answer: Would he bounce off a huge Fountain of Youth effort and could he get two turns?
The Jimmy Jerkens trainee answered both questions emphatically while turning in the most impressive Derby prep before this season - by far. The son of Elusive Quality was spectacular, everything from the 1:10.66 six furlongs he posted, to his turn back of Dunkirk at the top of the stretch, to his new track record. It was clearly the type of effort that should vault Quality Road not near the top, but at the top, of every Derby watch list. From where I stand, he is now the horse to beat on May 2.
If there are any questions left about Quality Road they surround his success on Gulfstream's surface, which has been playing like Talladega Superspeedway all meet long. Will he be able to transfer it to Churchill Downs? There's not really any reason to think he can't because Churchill usually favors speed as well, but there has definitely been something fishy going on in South Florida all meet long.
I believe Todd Pletcher was correct when he complained of an unfair speed bias at Gulfstream, but I wish he would have done it weeks before and not waited until the day of the race. It came off looking like sour grapes. But anyone who has watched racing at Gulfstream this winter knows that the track is playing extraordinarily fast. Just look at some of the Beyers that have been posted there -This Ones for Phil a 116, Notonthesamepage a 114, Quality Road a 114 in the FOY, Ikigai a 112, You Luckie Man a 110, It's a Bird a 107, etc. Those numbers don't seem sketchy to anyone?
And speaking of Beyers, I just saw that Quality Road earned a 103 for the Florida Derby. Huh? Someone want to explain to me how a horse can break a track record and earn 11 points less than he did last out? And, run 2 1/2 seconds faster than Dunkirk did in his 1 1/8-mile allowance yet score only five Beyer points higher? I'd love to know. Again, take these Beyer numbers with a grain of salt, especially at Gulfstream.
Back to the race. I thought Dunkirk turned in a very nice effort in his first start in stakes company, although four of the seven horses in there didn't belong. It looked as though Dunkirk was going to go right by Quality Road at the eighth-pole, but he just ran into a special horse. He has a bright future. Now, the interesting thing to watch over the next five weeks is whether Dunkirk's $150,000 earnings are enough to get him in. Right now, it doesn't look good for Team Pletcher, especially since a pair of horses from Dubai are now likely to come over.
Also, for the second straight race Kent Desormeaux gave a subpar ride on Theregoesjojo. This time, he not only had the closer too close to a hot pace, but somehow managed to get him in traffic trouble with only two other horses turning for home. Theregoesjojo wound up clipping heels with Quality Road coming out of the far turn and had to be steadied. He would not have beaten Quality Road anyway, but would have had a decent chance at getting second, which would have got him into the Derby. Now, he looks to be out of the picture.
Desormeaux compounded his blunder by claiming foul on Johnny V., which made him look worse. Kent D. won four races on the day, but when it counted most he came up very small. If I'm Ken McPeek, I am none too pleased.
I'm looking forward to next weekend, which should give us the rest of the real contenders. However, someone will have to do something very special to jump ahead of Quality Road.