Top plays for the Florida Derby, UAE Derby, and Jeff Ruby Steaks
A trio of top-tier Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races will take place around the world this weekend. All three have drawn deep, competitive fields with a minimum of 11 entries.
Let’s put together a $30 play for each race.
Meydan (Dubai), Race 9: UAE Derby (G2, 10:05 a.m. ET)
Horses based in Japan have been running well in the Middle East’s major dirt races for three-year-olds. Just last month, #9 Pink Kamehameha (8-1) sprung a surprise in the Saudi Derby, when he tracked the pace, then battled to victory over some of Dubai’s best sophomores.
#12 Takeru Pegasus (10-1) and #4 France Go de Ina (6-1) are the other Japanese raiders in the UAE Derby field, and I’ll favor the latter.
A Triple Crown nominee, France Go de Ina enters off back-to-back blowout wins racing 1 1/8 miles in Japan, where he most recently trounced allowance rivals by five lengths. The son of Will Take Charge has tactical speed and a strong finishing kick, so if he brings his "A" game to Dubai, he’ll be tough to deny under acclaimed jockey Joel Rosario.
Turfway Park, Race 11: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3, 6:25 p.m. ET)
#2 Hush of a Storm (4-1) boasts an undefeated record from three starts over the Turfway Tapeta course, highlighted by a stretch-running victory in the John Battaglia Memorial S. But I prefer the chances of #10 Gretzky the Great (5-1), who won the Summer (G1) on turf last season.
Although Gretzky the Great finished third in the Battaglia, he ran an admirable race. In his return from a 3 1/2-month layoff, the son of Nyquist broke from the rail and dueled for the lead through fast fractions. Even though he wasn’t cranked for a peak effort in his first start of the season, Gretzky the Great battled on gamely to finish just 1 3/4 lengths behind Hush of a Storm.
With this solid prep under his belt, Gretzky the Great can take a step forward in the Jeff Ruby. Post 10 should also set the stage for a more relaxed journey under jockey Chris Landeros.
$12 to win on #10 Gretzky the Great
$4 exacta: 10 with 2,7,9 ($12)
$1 trifecta: 10 with 2,7,9 with 2,7,9 ($6)
Gulfstream Park, Race 14: Florida Derby (G1, 6:40 p.m. ET)
#7 Greatest Honour (6-5) is the obvious choice, after he rallied to victory in the Holy Bull (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream, but two up-and-comers offer appeal at better prices.
#5 Known Agenda (5-1) has shown flashes of talent for five-time Florida Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, and the son of Curlin took a big step forward, with blinkers added, in a Gulfstream allowance last month. in the 1 1/8-mile race, Known Agenda settled a few lengths off the pace and powered clear to win by 11 lengths.
With jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, Known Agenda has a chance to get the jump on Greatest Honour and hold off the favorite down the homestretch.
The same strategy could prove effective for #8 Soup and Sandwich (20-1), who is unbeaten and unchallenged in two starts. The son of Into Mischief ran deceptively well in a one-mile and 40-yard allowance at Tampa Bay Downs last month, when he settled behind a slow pace and finished fast to prevail, with a 106 Brisnet Late Pace rating. Five-time Florida Derby-winning jockey John Velazquez has picked up the mount, which stamps Soup and Sandwich as a live longshot.
$5 exacta: 5,8 with 5,7,8 ($20)
$2.50 trifecta: 5,8 with 5,7,8 with 5,7,8 ($10)