For good reason, the overwhelming favorite in the 2012 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park this Saturday is Union Rags. He has raced 5 times, with 4 wins and a 2nd place effort which came in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Hansen). His one and only start in 2012 was a convincing victory that saw him under a hand ride by jockey Julien Leparoux in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. We know how good this horse is and it’s his race to lose. The other 8 entrants will need to run the race of their brief career to steal this away from him.
Gulfstream Park – Florida Derby (G1) – $1,000,000 – 1 1/8 miles – Dirt
1. Fort Loudon (FL) – Luis Jurado – 122 – Stanley Gold – 20/1
2. News Pending (KY) – Rajiv Maragh – 122 – Dale Romans – 8/1
3. Take Charge Indy (KY) – Calvin Borel – 122 – Patrick Byrne – 5/1
4. Neck ‘n Neck (KY) – Edgar Prado – 122 – Ian Wilkes – 20/1
5. Z Camelot (KY) – Joe Bravo – 122 – Dale Romans – 50/1
6. Union Rags (KY) – Julien Leparoux – 122 – Michael Matz – 6/5
7. Bartolome (KY) – Jesus Castanon – 122 – Jose Garoffalo – 30/1
8. El Padrino (KY) – Javier Castellano – 122 – Todd Pletcher – 2/1
9. Reveron (KY) – Elvis Trujillo – 122 – Agustin Bezara – 12/1
On paper, the horse who has the best chance to beat the Dixie Union colt is the Todd Pletcher trained El Padrino. After breaking his maiden 2nd time out at Belmont Park on October 29, he followed it up with a 3rd place finish in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on November 26. His first race of 2012, was a win in an Allowance Optional Claiming $75,000 where he defeated Take Charge Indy by two lengths. That rival is in this race as well. His most recent was his best performance to date. He got up to defeat Mark Valeski by a nose in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on February 26. Both colts were well in front of the rest of the field. He certainly made a statement to everyone that he can be a force to reckon with leading up to the Derby. Morning line odds have him at 2/1 odds while Union Rags at 6/5. For El Padrino to win this race, he will have to out duel Union Rags down the stretch. Both will sit off the leaders until until they straighten out down the stretch.
The rest of the field is a toss up as no other has been able to win a graded stakes race. That said, last year in the Florida Derby, 68/1 shot Shackleford shocked the field by finishing 2nd behind Dialed In. He ran 5th in the Fountain of Youth Stakes prior. Will there be another Shackleford in 2012?
The closest any other horse in this field came to winning a graded stakes race was Take Charge Indy. He ran 2nd last year in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) at Arlington Park. Since then he has performed well, but not well enough. He finished 4th in the Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October and 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His only start of 2012 came in a 2nd place effort behind El Padrino in the Allowance race. In his first four races, he sat well off the leaders and couldn’t make up enough ground. In the Allowance race, he sat right behind the leader and actually held a 3 lengths lead down the stretch before being caught by El Padrino. This will be the first time any of these horses will attempt 1 1/8 miles and that might be exactly what the doctor ordered. If he goes back to sitting back early and making his usual late move, the additional real estate should help his cause. Calvin Borel is on board and you know that he will do whatever it takes.
Dale Romans sends two to the gate with News Pending as his best shot. He is coming off a 2nd place result in the Fountain of Youth, albeit well behind Union Rags. He did defeat the likes of Fort Loudon and Neck ‘n Neck who are in this race as well. Prior to the Fountain, he ran 2nd in an Allowance race after trailing the entire race. It did take five tries to break his maiden while running at Saratoga, Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park. He will need a huge improvement if he is to tackle Union Rags and El Padrino.
One horse that could run big is the bottom horse, Reveron. Not sure if he can take on Union Rags, but his races to date have been solid and is getting better with each one. It did take him three tries to break his maiden, but since then he won an Allowance at Calder, won the Gulfstream Park Derby to debut as a three year old and most recently ran 3rd in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The horse who ran 2nd, a nose in front of him, came back to easily win the Tampa Bay Derby (Prospective). He held the lead at one point but ran wide on the far turn and on the turn for home. He is definitely one to watch. Again, I don’t think he has a chance to beat Union Rags, but could be in the top 2 or 3.
I believe Union Rags wins this race easy. If El Padrino can duplicate his Risen Star effort, he should be the runner-up. I believe it will be a late battle for 3rd between Take Charge Indy and Reveron. If Take Charge Indy takes back early and the speed is even moderate, he should get up in time with the additional 1/8 of a mile.
Be sure to stay up to date with upcoming graded stakes races and the results.
Also, keep an eye on the graded stakes earnings list as that will determine who qualifies for the Kentucky Derby!