Our attention stays in the Southeast this week on the Road to the Kentucky with the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, both on Saturday. The entire 14-race Gulfstream card plus the Louisiana Derby comprises the Road to Kentucky Contest. The Louisiana Derby will feature the rematch of War Story, Keen Ice and LeComte and Risen Star champ International Star. There’s a special place in my heart for International Star because I picked him to win the LeComte (garnering some much-needed points in the R2K contest). Star is certainly the horse for course at Fair Grounds as he is two-for-two in Louisiana. However, beware the bounce … can he go undefeated at Fair Grounds?
War Story is a worthy opponent and a horse for course as well. War Story also had a perfect record until International Star exploded in the LeComte and now War Story just keeps battling it out for second place. Joe Talamo is in the irons for the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds is a comfortable spot for him. That may sound odd, since he’s known a West Coast rider, but Talamo is a Louisiana native. He won the riding title at Fair Grounds when he was an apprentice in 2006. I’m sure Smokin’ Joe Talamo would love to steal a victory on his “home” track. Not only does he get the mount on War Story, but he also picks up other mounts on the card including the mount on Moreno in the New Orleans Handicap.
Keen Ice is a rugged colt. In his short racing career, he’s never been at the same track twice. Not once in six starts has he had the luxury of becoming comfortable with the ground beneath him. He gets the help of Fair Grounds’ leading rider Jimmy Graham and after finishing third in the Risen Star, maybe he’ll take to the course at Fair Grounds with a sense of familiar surroundings. I certainly hope so.
I have stated in the past that the stable to watch in 2015 is Zayat Stables. They have two of the best Kentucky Derby contenders in American Pharaoh and El Kabeir. In the Louisiana Derby, we get to see exactly what the third Zayat hopeful can do. Mr. Z, who is trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, will get Talamo’s West Coast travel buddy, Kent Desormeaux, to help gather up some Kentucky Derby recognition. Mr. Z has a nice resume of graded stakes races and has been racing with the big boys for most of them in 2014, but is having a hard time finding the winner’s circle. I don’t think it will get easier in this race.
You can never ignore a Todd Pletcher horse during Derby time. He has Stanford on the rail with the effervescent jockey Florent Geroux. Pletcher is in the top of the trainers’ list no matter what track he’s at, but Stanford just doesn’t have the graded racing chops. He also managed to get himself DQ’d last time out at Gulfstream Park, and that was with Javier Castellano on his back. If this horse can settle down, he could be the spoiler (and by that I mean … spoil a trifecta).
I know I have to play War Story in this race. Miguel Mena on International Star and Talamo on War Story is a great matchup of skilled jockeys, but with these two always eye-to-eye down the stretch, this might be the perfect opportunity for Keen Ice to shine in the Louisiana sun. With both Keen Ice and Stanford at morning line 5-1, they are the best horses for the money.
The $1,000,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream is a rematch of Upstart and Itsaknockout after their much-debated finish in the Fountain of Youth on February 21. Upstart was DQ’d and placed second sending Itsaknockout to pose for pictures. I would venture to guess that Jose Ortiz has been cautioned to avoid trouble in this race. I would also guess that the instructions to the rest of the jocks were to make sure he finds it. The young jock and the plucky Upstart are veterans together at this point but Jose got into a battle with Itsaknockout in the Fountain of Youth and let Upstart wander. I know he’s going to be paying attention to where Luis Saez and Itsaknockout are in this race. Reviewing this race, I’m still not sure young Jose knew how quickly Itsaknockout had caught him. With that said, I don’t think it will happen again.
Since I regretfully ignored the Pletcher trained Itsaknockout in their first meeting, I won’t ignore the second Pletcher entry in this race again. I like Materiality. He’s two-for-two at Gulfstream under John Velazquez.
I want Upstart to draw away this time, and not make things so tense! With the odds being so close between Upstart, Itsaknockout and Materiality, you might want to play Ami’s Flatter for a price in a trifecta or superfecta. Otherwise, this is not much of a bettor’s race. None of them will be from here on out. The Kentucky Derby is a little more than a month away. If your list of top contenders hasn’t taken shape yet, it certainly should after Saturday’s races.
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Post time and R2K contest entry deadline is 11:00 a.m.
Racing and wagering from Dubai begins Saturday with first post at 7:40 a.m. The Dubai World Cup featuring California Chrome is race 9 on the card with post time scheduled for noon. If you would like you can make advance wagers today.
Dubai World Cup – Florida Derby Double – A stellar Saturday, March 28 race schedule is now even more interesting. AmWest Entertainment and Gulfstream Park have teamed to create the Dubai World Cup-Florida Derby Daily Double.
Advanced Wagering will be available at Canterbury on the Saturday cards from Dubai and Gulfstream (including the Dubai World Cup – Florida Derby DD) Friday at 11:00 a.m.