2018 Kentucky Derby: Will the Florida Derby Produce the Favorite?

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D.S. Williamson

March 28th, 2018

The Florida Derby, one of the top prep races for the May 5 Kentucky Derby, takes place this Saturday on March 31. Some of the top 3-year-olds in the nation, including Catholic Boy, Promises Fulfilled and Audible, head to Gulfstream Park's Racetrack for the Florida Derby.

The 2017 Florida Derby produced the Run for the Roses race favorite when the Todd Pletcher trained Always Dreaming went off at 9/2. 9/2 odds made Always Dreaming the Derby favorite.

Will this year's Florida Derby produce the 2018 Kentucky Derby favorite?

2018 Kentucky Derby:  Will the Florida Derby Produce the Favorite?

Always Dreaming easily won last year's Florida Derby before riding a golden rail on a muddy track to a 2017 Kentucky Derby win. There are reasons why an Always Dreaming, a Kentucky Derby favorite, won't emerge from this year's Florida Derby. Keep reading for those reasons.

Last Year's Florida Derby Wasn't as Deep as This Year's Florida Derby

Last year, Always Dreaming faced a relatively weak field in the Florida Derby. His top competition was Gunnevera, who went off the even money favorite, and State of Honor who went off at 4 to 1. State of Honor finished second. Gunnevera finished third. The other horses in last year's Florida Derby were (in order of finish):  Impressive Edge, Three Rules, Talk Logistics, Coleman Rocky, Unbridled Holiday, Charlie the Greek, and Quinientos.

At first glance, this year's Florida Derby appears to be a repeat of last year's Florida Derby. Like Always Dreaming, the race favorite should be a Todd Pletcher trained horse, Audible. Also like the 2017 Florida Derby, there appears to be two other contenders in the race, Catholic Boy and Promises Fulfilled.

That's not exactly the case, though. Mississippi is likely to run in the Florida Derby. The Mark Casse trainee finished second to Storm Runner in his last race. Two races ago, he finished second to Noble Indy. Noble Indy won the Louisiana Derby this past Saturday.

Storm Runner is also entered. The Dale Romans trainee didn't run well in the Fountain of Youth. There's some reason to believe he bounces back on Saturday. Why not? After breaking his maiden, he finished  off the board. Then, he beat Mississippi in an allowance race.

Another contender, and one who should definitely be taken seriously, is Strike Power. Trained by Mark Hennig, if Strike Power hadn't allowed Promises Fulfilled to get an easy lead in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he might have beaten that rival. Strike Power could be the play if you believe he takes a step forward off his Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Simply put, it's going to be much tougher for Audible to beat Mississippi, Storm Runner, Strike Power, Catholic Boy and Promises Fulfilled than it was for Always Dreaming to simply beat State of Honor and Gunnevera.

Even if Audible Wins Impressively, He Won't Go Off As the Derby Favorite

Even if Audible wins impressively on March 31, he most likely won't go off the Kentucky Derby favorite. There are a couple of reasons why:

1. In 2017 there was only one Classic Empire. In 2018, there are two Classic Empires.

The best three-year-old last year until West Coast won the Travers Stakes was probably Classic Empire. Classic Empire was heads and tails above his competition. On a fair track, he might have dominated the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
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Bolt d'Oro (left) and McKinzie battle to the wire in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) - © Benoit Photo

This year, there are two Classic Empires:  Bolt d'Oro and Good Magic. If Good Magic impressively wins the Bluegrass Stakes, he'll go off the favorite in the Derby unless...Bolt d'Oro impressively wins the Santa Anita Derby. Bolt d'Oro's the Derby favorite if he beats McKinzie on the square.

2. This year's projected Kentucky Derby Field is deep.

When you think about it, 2017 Kentucky Derby wasn't all that deep. Because Always Dreaming was a 9/2 favorite, the impression was that it was a deep Derby field. Really, it wasn't.

That same can't be said for this year's Kentucky Derby. McKinzie, Bob Baffert's top prospect, is healthy and ready to go. He's likely to finish no worse than second in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert also has Justify. If Justify wins the Arkansas Derby, no matter what history says, he's a contender on the First Saturday in May.

In addition to Audible, Todd Pletcher trains Magnum Moon. Magnum Moon looked great winning the Rebel Stakes. Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O'Brien plans on sending Mendelssohn to the U.S. for the Kentucky Derby. He's sired by Scat Daddy. Think he'll like the dirt? Enticed just won the Gotham while My Boy Jack won the Southwest Stakes.

Audible could pull an Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby on March 31. But, even if he does, it's hard to envision Audible going off as the favorite in the Run for the Roses.