Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Dunkirk and Edward P. Evans’ Quality Road, the two likely favorites for next Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, posted impressive workouts on a fast track Saturday morning at Palm Meadows.
Dunkirk, working in company with highly-regarded stablemate Affirmatif, was timed a ‘bullet’ five furlongs in 1:00:15 for trainer Todd Pletcher while Quality Road was timed in 1:25 for seven furlongs for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, the only horse working that distance on the tab.
“The work before the (Fountain of Youth) was supposed to be fast (five furlongs in 58 2/5) because we were going a mile. This one was a little slower because we’re looking for him to go further and we want to build up his stamina. But we also wanted to see something, because he’s a big talented horse and you want to make sure he gets something out of it.
“That’s what he did. It was perfect. I’m very happy with the work. I might do something Thursday or Friday just to get his lungs opened up before the race.”
Pletcher left shortly after training hours for a flight to Kentucky where he sends out James Scatuorchio and John Iracane’s 3-year-old Bittel Road as the morning-line favorite in the $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (G2) at Turfway Park this afternoon.
Other notable workouts posted on the Saturday morning tab at Palm Meadows included West Point Thoroughbreds and partners’ 3-yearold filly Justwhistledixie and Tracy Farmer’s remarkable 8-year-old gelding Commentator, both timed a half-mile.
Justwhistledixie went an easy half in 50:85 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin as she tunes up for the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2) on Friday. The daughter of Dixie Union will be the favorite for the 1 1/8 miles Bonnie Miss, a Kentucky Oaks (G1) preview, after posting three straight stakes victories, two in New York and the Davona Dale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream on Mar. 1.
Commentator earned the ‘bullet’ for a half-mile as he was timed in 47, fastest of 95 horses timed at the distance. Trained by Nick Zito, the son of Distorted Humor is expected to make his season debut next month. The two-time winner of Saratoga’s Whitney Handicap (G1) hasn’t run since finishing third at 2-5 in the Clark Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 behind Einstein.
Slow Tempo for Beethoven Saturday Morning
As John Oxley’s 3-year-old old Florida Derby (G1) prospect Beethoven was pulling up from exercise over a ‘sloppy’ track around 9 a.m. Saturday at Gulfstream Park, trainer John Ward said, “I wasn’t looking for anything brilliant. He had a good work last week and he’s run some of best races after he had not much more than a little blowout a week before.
“I was looking for him to go 14, 14, 14 and maybe the last eighth in 13, and I think that’s pretty much the way he went. I don’t normally work them over a muddy track, but getting a horse to the (Kentucky) Derby is different. There’s no roof over Churchill Downs. What he did this morning was just fine.”
Clockers timed Beethoven five furlongs in 1:09 4/5 after fractions of 27 for the first quarter and 41 4/5 for three-eighths. The son of Sky Mesa worked five furlongs last Saturday in 59 4/5 in his only other drill since finishing third behind Quality Road and Theregoesjojo in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2).
Beethoven scored his biggest career victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November. Ward is best known for his development of Oxley’s Monarchos in 2001. That son of Maria’s Mon won three races at Gulfstream, including the Florida Derby, prior to winning the Kentucky Derby by 4¾ lengths.
Samotowka Stables and partners’ Theregoesjojo was scheduled to work Saturday morning at Gulfstream as his major final tune-up for the Florida Derby, but trainer Ken McPeek decided to postpone until Sunday morning because of the ‘sloppy’ track conditions that came to Hallandale later in the morning.
Six miles west of Gulfstream at Calder Race Course Saturday morning the track was fast and Korina Stable’s Florida Derby hopeful Sincero drilled a ‘bullet’ five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 for trainer Manny Azpurua. The son of Repent finished third behind Dunkirk in a nine-furlong allowance race last out on Feb. 19.
Triple Puts Desormeaux Back on Top in Gulfstream Standings
The competition for leading rider honors at Gulfstream Park has become a day-to-day affair with the top five within a few wins of one another. Kent Desormeaux reclaimed the lead on Friday, riding three winners to bring his total to 41, one more than Julien Leparoux.
Jose Lezcano and John R. Velazquez are just one more back, tied for third at 39, and Alan Garcia rounds out the top five in fifth with 38 victories.
Two of Desormeaux’s three wins Friday came aboard horses trained by Ken McPeek, a team that has been highly successful through this season. McPeek has led the trainer standings since the early days of the session, but the two victories Friday brought him out of a tie with Todd Pletcher to lead 24-22. Nick Zito ranks third with 18, followed by Peter Walder fourth at 14 and Wesley Ward fifth with 13.