By Dennis Miller
Saturday marks the start of the final stretch to the Kentucky Derby, with the top horses running in either the Florida Derby or the Louisiana Derby not starting again until the first Saturday in May!
The Florida Derby appears to be the better of the two races, but there are some possible Derby contenders taking on the track at the Fair Grounds.
Following is a preview of the two races:
Louisiana Derby (11th race, Fair Grounds, 3:21 p.m. post): The overwhelming favorite is Girvin (8/5), based solely on his win in the Risen Star where he came from off the pace at 8-1 to win by over two lengths. A starter in only three races, the connections have the running style figure out – sit back and make one run. It’s a style that could sit well in Kentucky and one that figures to make sense here as there does seem to be some willing to show the early speed.
Guest Suite (4/1) is another runner that chooses to come from off the pace. He went off at 7/2 in the Risen Star and got too far back and too wide to go with I Girvin. I look for a much better trip here, keeping closer to the front at to Girvin as they turn for home. I expect much better than a fourth-place finish.
The two horses with speed here I will look at are Patch and Local Hero. Local Hero (7/2) set the pace in the Risen Star before getting passed in the lane and holding on to third. This is a smaller field and a more sensible pace seems to be possible. I still think both Guest Suite and Girvin will be running down the leaders in the lane, but if Local Hero gets an easy lead, anything is possible.
Patch is the wild card here. The horse has but two starts and is coming off his maiden win, but does come from the Todd Pletcher stable, giving the connections instant credibility. The horse has shown some speed in both starts and breaking from the rail makes an early send more likely.
My play: I am going to play Guest Suite here. I think the connections learned from the Risen Star and will closer to the pace. Girvin will have his run, but I would not be surprised to see Guest Suite get the first run.
Florida Derby (14th race, Gulfstream Park, 3:40 p.m. post): A strong field with at least two Kentucky Derby threats and others that could figure both here and in Kentucky.
Gunnevera (9/5) is one of the buzz horses for Kentucky, largely based on impressive five-length win in the Fountain of Youth where he used a punishing kick to blow by the field in the lane. All signs point to an honest pace here and it should set up nicely for his style.
Battalion Runner (3/1) and Always Dreaming (4/1) are making their biggest starts to date, with both coming off wins in optional claimers. Both come from the Todd Pletcher barn and both show speed. Chances of Pletcher sending both are rare so it will be interesting to see how the strategy here plays out.
State of Honor (8/1) also has shown good speed and breaks from the rail, so expect to see speed here. The horse has been second to Tapwrit and third to McCracken and Tapwrit in his last two starts, so there is quality in his finishes, He holds the speed well, but won’t be alone on it here.
Three Rules (8/1) has yet to win a Graded race, but the horse hit the board in both the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth. This race could see the horse take back some – sit in the middle of the pack – and he may be the one that gets first run on the speed.
Impressive Edge (12/1) is one final horse of interest to me, but this will be the first route so there are questions. The running style is one that comes from off the pace, something which should play well here.
My play: I have been a fan of Three Rules since early this year and am not going to change now. I trust the connections to sit the horse in the middle of the pack and indeed by the one to get first run. I will back it up with an exacta box with Gunnevera as that closing kick in the Fountain of Youth is hard to forget.