Some of the early stakes for 3-year-olds, which have had trouble luring more than five horses in some cases, have been a bit underwhelming so far. The grade III Lecomte on Saturday at Fair Grounds is one example.
Though the Lecomte is the marquee 3-year-old race this weekend, the best field of sophomores could be running in the ninth race at Gulfstream on Friday. It's a nine-furlong non-winners of two that drew a field of eight. Though only one of the starters is a stakes winner, there are several that have generated considerable buzz amongst those (like myself) that enjoy following 3-year-olds on their way to the Kentucky Derby.
Don't be surprised if one of more of these budding stars wind up in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and/or Kentucky Derby. In fact, this exact same race a year ago produced the Florida Derby exacta of last year with Ice Box and Pleasant Prince. Many of them were high-priced yearlings or 2-year-olds. Here are the PPs and a breakdown of what should be a fun race:
1. Financial Empire (Empire Maker-Bank Audit, by Wild Rush)--The first of two starters for Todd Pletcher in here, this colt broke his maiden in his Dec. 16 debut at Calder by coming from off the pace in a one-mile contest. He was an $800,000 2-year-old buy for Brushwood Stable, so he is obviously a horse with a lot of potential. He's had three works at Palm Meadows since his win and will get Eibar Coa once again.
2. Dialed In (Mineshaft-Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat)--Maybe the most hyped horse in the race, he broke his maiden in electrifying fashion on Nov. 7 at Churchill when he started slowly and looked like he had no chance turning for home only to come flying down the stretch to win by a half-length in his 6 1/2-furlong debut. Nick Zito trains Dialed in for Robert LaPenta and Julien Leparoux keeps the mount. He was a $475,000 yearling who obviously has all kinds of potential. He has been working like a monster at Palm Meadows this winter, including two recent bullet moves.
3. Soldat (War Front-Le Relais, by Coranado's Quest)--He's been on the radar of many since winning the grade III With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga last summer on turf. Was runner-up in both the Pilgrim (gr. III) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT), but will now go back to dirt where he made his first two starts last summer. He's obviously an exceptional horse, but it remains to be seen what his preferred surface might be. Kiaran McLaughlin will probably give him this one chance to prove himself on dirt. If he underperforms he could return to turf, where he looks to have a promising future.
4. Cool Blue Red Hot (Harlan's Holiday-Paris Rose, by Accelerator)--Came from off the pace in his two starts as a juvenile, including maiden breaker in November at Calder when he was sent off as the 1-10 favorite and scored by 3 1/4 lengths going two turns. Angel Penna trains this colt, who missed by a nose in his debut at Belmont in October but earned the top Bris speed number amongst the starters in this field (105). A $120,000 yearling buy, he might be less hyped than some in here, but he could be a good one.
5. Beamer (Vindication-Untarnished, by Unbridled)--Ran out of his shoes in a Dec. 30 maiden race at Tampa Bay, winning by more than five lengths as the heavy favorite. Interesting that the Jim Tafel homebred made his debut in an $80,000 maiden claimer at Churchill in November when he was fourth. I'm guessing Carl Nafzger won't be dropping him in for a claim any time soon. Showed more early speed in his win than in his debut, and without much early pace in here look for Beamer to be near the lead. Of course, Tafel and Nafzger won the Derby in 2007 with Street Sense.
6. Lauburu (Unbridled's Song-Goulash, by Mari's Book)--Pletcher's other starter is a half-brother to two-time champion Ashado. The $925,000 yearling made a winning debut in November at Aqueduct, stalking the early pace and getting up late to hold on by a nose in the seven-furlong contest. He had a poor break in that race and was still near the pace. Could be the one to beat turning for home.
7. Halo's Thunder (Thunder Gulch-Her Halo, by Saint Ballado)--The classiest starter in the field, he has raced in stakes company during his last three without hitting the board. Ken McPeek trainee comes off a sixth-place finish in the Tropical Park Derby on the Calder turf. Broke his maiden on Polytrack last fall when racing near the pace. Adds blinkers for this, so look for him to be more involved early than he's been in his last three starts. McPeek and Desormeaux are off to pretty good starts at this meet.
8. Mas Trueno (Afleet Alex-Cateress, by Tabasco Cat)--Broke his maiden at Philly Park in this third try in November going a mile and 70 yards when trained by John Servis. Makes his first start for William Phipps, who usually does Ok with new horses. He'll be a longshot in here, even with Castellano aboard.
We're going to profile this race on That Handicapping Show tomorrow so I'm going to wait to make up my mind until then. But Cool Blue Red Hot, Beamer and Dialed In are the most intriguing to me right now.
Who do you like?