Take nothing away from the other nine Kentucky Derby preps that have already been run, but for me, the Fountain of Youth is where the real Triple Crown trail begins. From this point forward, everything starts to get serious.
I think many would agree that the best 3-year-olds in the country make their home in Florida, and this is our first chance to see where the upper-echelon stands. Will To Honor and Serve carry his 2-year-old form over to this year and confirm his status as one of the top two sophomores in the nation? Will Soldat continue his climb toward the top of the ranks and become one of the new Derby favorites? Or will a horse like Shackleford, Casper's Touch, or Bowman's Causeway jump into the fray in their North American stakes debuts? Either we will have a major shake-up (if To Honor and Serve loses) or things will remain unchanged at the top (until Uncle Mo runs two weeks from now).
Here is my take. Let me know who you like:
Soldat should run well. Breaking from the rail kind of forces his hand, so I think he will battle with Shackleford for the lead and be in a good position to win turning for home. Kiaran McLaughlin is over the moon about how he has been training for the race and having that two-turn allowance win last month is a big advantage over To Honor and Serve, who comes off a nearly three-month layoff and might not be geared up all the way for the race. Im thinking To Honor and Serve will be favored, but would not be surprised if Soldat takes a lot of money and is bet heavily.
Gourmet Dinner is razor sharp right now too. I don't believe he is a threat for the Derby but he is a major factor here given his form, affinity for the track, and his racing style, which should land him in a stalking trip. He is a must-use on exotics for me, especially with Ramon flying in for the mount.
On That Handicapping Show, I landed on Casper's Touch, who was very impressive in a runner-up finish to Shackleford in a Feb. 8 allowance race over this tack at the same distance. This is a big test for him against some very good horses so I want to see what his price is near post time. I want at least 7-1 on him to make a win bet, otherwise he will be an exotics play. Normally, if Leparoux switches mounts it's not a good thing but in this case there is a legitimate reason for Ken McPeek to replace him with Alex Solis. Leparoux is committed to Dialed In and McPeek wants the same rider for this race, the Florida Derby, and hopefully the Kentucky Derby. Solis is riding superbly right now.
Maybe Shackleford will run back to his last race but I don't think he'll have things his own way like he did then so Im going to leave him out. I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach with Bowman's Causeway too, though the third race could be a good indicator to include him in exotics if Nacho Business runs well. I think El Grayling and Racing Aptitude are up against it.
As it stands now, I may just bet a four-horse trifecta box--Soldat, Casper's Touch, To Honor and Serve, and Gourmet Dinner. If Soldat is 3-1 or more (which I doubt he will be) and Casper's Touch is not at least 7-1, I will be very tempted to play a win bet on Soldat.