The Road to the Kentucky Derby has begun. The Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby has been run and Gulfstream Park opens this afternoon. Given that the Fair Grounds has been in action since Thanksgiving, and Santa Anita since the day after Christmas, its time to begin paying attention again.

Todd Pletcher, in winning his first graded stakes of 2008, has 55 more to go before reaching last years total. But its the G1 Kentucky Derby that Pletcher wants most and his Tropical Park Derby winner Cowboy Cal put him squarely on the right path.

Is he concerned Cowboy Cals winning effort came on the turf? Not at all.

Were taking the Barbaro path, Pletcher deadpanned following the Calder stakes. But dont think for a minute the remark was made tongue-in-cheek. Cowboy Cal won the nine furlong race impressively, drawing off strongly through the stretch, mostly on his own, and was timed in 1:46 4/5, identical to Barbaros clocking two years ago. Pletcher is considering the Fountain of Youth on the main track next, on Feb. 24.

The Florida-based three-year-olds wont be back in the spotlight until Saturdays Hutcheson Stakes, so Gulfstream will get under way with the South Beach Stakes on the turf for Florida-bred fillies and mares.

The resurgent Bill Mott will team up with stable rider Kent Desormeaux to send out South Beach favorite Quite A Bride (9-5), a mare high on early speed with a modicum of class, a G3 winner that finished third in a G2 at Keeneland when last seen under tack.

(For bettors of this favorite, it is hoped Desormeaux doesnt brain lock the way he did on a Mott turf favorite in yesterdays third race at Calder. See replay, watch this exhibition, then put Scolara in your stable mail). But, as for Quite A Bride, quality speed and an inside post looks like a formidable coupling.

It will be interesting to see how Mystic Soul (4-1) does in the East. Shes a classy Californian making her first start off a lengthy layup for trainer Wesley Ward, a profitable 27 percent efficient with new acquisitions. If shes to seriously challenge the favorite, shell have to overcome an extreme outside position.