The Brock Talk

Monday, April 4, 2011

Florida Derby Confirms, Changes and Provides Hope For Kentucky Plans

Like ugly pitchers and pretty quarterbacks, everybody loves a late running thoroughbred and an emotional Nick Zito. Who can forget the raspy sounding Zito thanking God and everybody within reach after Strike the Gold won the 1991 Kentucky Derby. Well Dialed In gave horse racing both again Sunday afternoon at Gulfstream Park when he won the grade 1 Florida Derby narrowly over a stubborn Shackleford in second.

“This particular horse [Dialed In], I’ve become attached to," Zito said Monday at his barn at Palm Meadows Training Center. "I’ve had a lot of great horses, but with this particular horse there’s something about him, the horse’s courage, the way he is. More importantly, you’re not supposed to do what he’s done in his young career,“ Zito continued. “It’s almost impossible to do the things he’s done. You get emotional. He defies a speed favoring track – he defies it.”

Zito said Monday that he would not be shipping Dialed In to Kentucky anytime soon and would instead remain at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida for at least a few more weeks. But there is not doubt they are headed to Kentucky where Zito will be trying to win his third Run for the Roses. Zito won the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and again in 1994 with Go For Gin.

Shackleford, the Florida Derby runner-up at odds of 68-1, will be leaving for Kentucky a little sooner according to his trainer Dale Romans. The question for Shackleford will be whether his $212,000 will be enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby. Shackleford added the $200,000 second-place Florida Derby check to his previous $12,000 earned while finishing fifth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2) won by Soldat Feb. 26.

“We’ll see how everything shakes down and if the $212,000 will be good enough to get in,” Roman’s said Monday. “We won’t run him again. He’ll be pointed to the Derby and if doesn’t get in, we’ll give the Preakness a try.” Shackleford is currently ranked 20th on the list of graded stakes earnings by Kentucky Derby contenders. While that will be the final spot available to enter on May 4 for the Derby three days later, there are plenty of very rich graded stakes between now and the Kentucky Derby and that day. On the positive side for Shackleford, there are several horses ranked above the son of Forrestry that are questionable for the Kentucky Derby. The owners of Comma To The Top, currently sixth on the money list, have said the Kentucky Derby is not in their plans for the colt. Also ranked above Shackleford are three horses that finished well behind him in the Florida Derby.

Florida Derby favorite Soldat is ranked fifth on the list with $540,000 in graded earnings but was fifth in the Florida Derby, beaten more than 10 lengths by Dialed In. Florida Derby third-place finisher To Honor and Serve is ranked tenth with $350,000; and Stay Thirsty, seventh in the Florida Derby, has the 15th highest graded stakes earnings with $260,000.

“My gut tells me, ‘yeah, go on to the Kentucky Derby’” Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Soldat, said Monday. “You’ve got the earnings and [the Florida Derby was the] first race he wasn’t first or second. But I’ll have to talk to all the owners.” McLaughlin also said the 3-year-old son of War Front came out of the Florida Derby with no concerns.

Unlike Soldat, To Honor and Serve has not had a good race this year. In his only two races as a 3-year-old, To Honor and Serve has finished third, more than 6-1/2 lengths behind the winner, in both the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth. Last year To Honor and Serve won the grade 2 Remsen Stakes at 1-1/8 miles over Mucho Macho Man but has yet to match that race as a sophomore. Bill Mott, his Hall of Fame trainer is also not one to be smitten over having a Kentucky Derby starter. In a training career that spans some 40 years, Mott has had only seven Kentucky Derby starters with Hold Me Back, 12th in 2009, as his most successful starter.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has not indicated as to whether Stay Thirsty will be heading to Kentucky for the Derby, but the odds are that he and owner Mike Repole will be looking elsewhere. Stay Thirsty was never a factor while finishing a well beaten sixth in the Florida Derby. Pletcher also trains Derby future book favorite Uncle Mo for Repole, so it not likely they will need Stay Thirsty to get to Churchill Downs for the Derby.

Whether To Honor and Serve, Soldat or Stay Thirsty head to Kentucky or not, one can be assured the list will change many times during the next four weeks leading up to the Derby. Millions of graded earnings have yet to be given away in New York, California, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas, so new names on the list of probable Kentucky Derby are likely to appear. Just as names fall of that list for various reasons as well.

Safe be it to say that the connections behind Shackleford will watch their colt fall of and return to the Derby list a few times in the next four weeks.

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