Florida Derby Saturday card at Gulfstream

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Ted Black

April 2nd, 2016

Thoroughbred fans have been scouting their Kentucky Derby hopefuls for several months and for many of them two of the horses that are among the top five on their respective lists - if not the top two spots - will clash on Saturday afternoon in the Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby in the 14th and final race on a stakes-filled card at Gulfstream Park.

Last year's champion two-year-old colt, Nyquist, trained by Doug O'Neill of I'll Have Another fame, has won all five of his starts and ships east from his Santa Anita base to face another unbeaten colt, Mohaymen, who has won all six of his starts for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Most racing pundits have both on their top five list of Derby contenders and several among them have them occupying the top two spots.

Although Nyquist is the defending champion of this generation and remained unbeaten after winning the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita in his three-year-old debut, Mohaymen rates as the slight favorite in the Florida Derby based on his two stakes wins over the strip. Mohaymen has already won the Holy Bull Stakes and the Fountain Of Youth for McLaughlin and his familiarity with the strip could give him an edge over the reigning champ in this battle of unbeaten sophomores.

But those who do not want to concede that the Florida Derby is a cold exacta box among the undefeated colts could easily use both Fellowship and Takeittotheedge to split that pair. Fellowship has finished third in both the Holy Bull and the Fountain Of Youth Stakes while no match for Mohaymen in either event, but he could improve enough to finish second to him in this event, especially if Nyquist does not fire his best shot in his Gulfstream debut after making the long trip across country. Takeittotheedge won a seven-furlong maiden special weight by eight lengths and boasts plenty of potential, but obviously is well behind the curve in experience and class.

One race earlier in the Grade II, $200,000 Pan American on the turf, any one of four horses looks poised to prevail in this spot. Kaigun has finished second in three straight graded stakes outings and draws the rail, while Grand Tito won a Grade II last out. Wake Forest makes his seasonal debut after running sixth in the Grade I, Arlington Million in his most recent outing last summer, while Twilight Eclipse looks to regain the form that had him among the best grass horses in the land in 2014. Since running third in the Grade I Turf Classic at Belmont, his last three starts leave a lot to be desired.

One race earlier in the Grade II, $300,000 Honey Fox for fillies and mares on the turf, Sandiva arrives off a second-place finish as the favorite in the Grade II Royal Delta on the main track, but returns to the grass course where she won the Grade III Marshuas River in January. Tammy The Torpedo has won two straight stakes over the course for trainer Chad Brown, while Lady Lara heads into the Honey Fox off a second-place finish to Tepin in the Grade III Endeavor at Tampa Bay last out and will likely arner the favorite's role off that performance.

Then one race earlier in the Grade III, $200,000 Orchid Stakes on the lawn for fillies and mares, Photo Call rates the one to beat for Pletcher. She finished fourth behind Tepin in the Endeavor last out and was fifth in the Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Turf at Keeneland in the last start of her previous campaign. Prior to that she won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita. European invader Suffused makes her U.S. and seasonal debut for trainer Bill Mott, while Crisolles drew the rail in her seasonal debut for Christophe Clement.

One race earlier the scene shifts back to the main track where a field of nine will clash in the $100,000 Sir Shackleton at seven furlongs. But on paper, at least, the event appears to be a match race between the razor-sharp Defer Heaven, who has won all four of his starts this year over the strip for trainer Jorge Navarro and Anchor Down, who faded to third after pressing the early pace in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap at one mile over the track last out.

Two races earlier in the Grade III, $200,000 Appleton for older horses on the grass, this event looks like a four-horse affair. Long On Value and Divisidero were second and third, respectively, in the Grade III Canadian Turf last out they will vie for the favorite's role in this spot. Reporting Star was a solid second in the Sunshine Millions Turf in January, while Force The Pass makes his seasonal debut for trainer Alan Goldberg. He won the Grade I Belmont Derby last summer then was third as the favorite in the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park before running third as the 2-5 choice in the Grade II Commonwealth at Laurel Park.

One race earlier in the Grade II, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks for three-year-old fillies on the main track, the undefeated Off The Tracks seeks her fourth straight victory to begin her career for Pletcher and arrives off a sharp win over the strip. But the Oaks represents her first try at a distance and navigating two turns, so despite her speed and pedigree she may not be a cinch. Gomo won twice in five starts last year for O'Neill, including the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland, but the Oaks represents her sophomore debut.

Two races earlier in the Grade III, $150,000 Skipaway Stakes at nine furlongs on the main track, much of the focus will be on Valid, who has been second twice and third once in three starts over the strip this winter. He was a solid second behind Pletcher trainee Mshawish in the Grade I Donn Handicap two starts back and this Marcus Vitali trainee could be using this event as a springboard to the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic on April 23.