Dunkirk & Quality Road Lead Cast for 58th Florida Derby

Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Dunkirk, very impressive winning his two starts at Gulfstream Park this season for trainer Todd Pletcher; and Edward P. Evans’ Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) winner Quality Road are the morning-line favorites at 9-5 and 2-1, respectively, for Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (G1).

The two emerging star 3-year-olds will bid to use the historic 1 1/8 miles fixture to earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs five weeks later on Sat., May 2. A field of nine was drawn Wednesday morning for the 58th edition of South Florida’s showcase race.

Also to be run on the 12-race Florida Derby program will be renewals of the $150,000 Swale Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and $100,000 Appleton Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds and up at 7 ½ furlongs on turf.

Jockey Garrett Gomez flies in from California for the mount on Dunkirk, who will break from Post 4. The roan/gray colt by Unbridled’s Song, as a $3.7 million yearling purchase, was a newsmaker long before he ever raced.

In his two starts at the meet, Dunkirk looked worth the money, winning his seven-furlong debut on Jan. 24 by 5 ¾ lengths after a slow start, and a nine-furlong allowance race over the track and Florida Derby distance on Feb. 28 by 4 ¾ lengths, with Gomez making the trip for the mount that day.

While Dunkirk has been tested around two turns, Quality Road still has to answer that question for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. The homebred son Elusive Quality won the one-mile, one-turn Fountain of Youth by 4¼ lengths on Feb. 28 in brilliant fashion.

Jockey John R. Velazquez gets a return call on Quality Road breaking from Post 2 as he makes his fourth career start. His career started with a debut victory going 6½ furlongs at Aqueduct on Nov. 29. The imposing bay colt was off a step slow in his first start as a 3-year-old here going seven furlongs on Jan. 10 and finished second as the odds-on favorite.

Samotowka Stables and partners’ Theregoesjojo, runner-up behind Quality Road in the Fountain of Youth, will attract his share of supporters in the Florida Derby with jockey Kent Desormeaux taking the return call for trainer Ken McPeek, breaking from Post 6.

Theregoesjojo ran down Quality Road to win the Jan. 10 allowance, scoring by 2¾ lengths in his first start since a fourth-place effort in the Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on July 5. A son of Bernstein, Theregoesjojo rallied for second in the Fountain of Youth as if he will appreciate additional distance.

Pletcher also entered the Coolmore ownership team’s maiden Europe in the race as a pacemaker for Dunkirk, fearing Quality Road could get loose on an easy lead. Jockey Chris DeCarlo rides Europe from Post 8.

Like Dunkirk, Europe is a roan/gray colt by Unbridled’s Son purchased from the Keeneland September sale. His sales price was $2.6 million. He finished fourth in his only career start here going five furlongs on Feb. 21 after a slow start.

Completing the field are Robert La Penta’s Toby the Coal Man, Julien Leparoux; Korina Stable’s Sincero, Elvis Trujillo; New Life Stable and Equus Racing’s Stately Character, Rene Douglas; Lansdon Robbins III and Sam Delaney’s Danger to Society, Mario Madrid; and Terry Hamilton’s Casey’s On Call, E.T. Baird.


Big Drama Makes Season Debut in Swale Stakes

Harold Queen’s Big Drama was among those expected to be a 3-year-old division leader and Florida Derby prospect early this year after winning the $750,000 Delta Jackpot (G3) at Delta Downs in Louisiana in early December, but a bruised foot and other minor setbacks have delayed his season debut until Saturday’s Swale Stakes.

Jockey Eibar Coa rides Big Drama for trainer David Fawkes in a field of six. A Florida homebred son of Montbrook, Big Drama won five straight at Calder after a third-place debut on July 12, sweeping the three divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes series prior to the Delta Jackpot.

The chief threat to Big Drama in the Swale will likely be Paul Pompa Jr. and partners’ This Ones for Phil, who was developed at Calder as a 2-year-old before a private sale to his current owners and placed with trainer Rick Dutrow late last year.

Jockey Garrett Gomez picks up the mount on This Ones for Phil. The Florida-bred by Untuttable has made two starts this year for his new connections with mixed results. He flashed brilliance winning the Sunshine Millions Dash here on Jan. 24 by 2¼ lengths, but disappointed last out, tiring to fifth behind Quality Road in the Fountain of Youth after setting the pace to the top of the stretch.

Completing the field for the Swale are Homewrecker Racing and Avalon Farm’s Custom for Carlos, Kent Desormeaux; Zayat Stable’s B Z Warrior, John Velazquez; Robert La Penta’s Brave Victory, Julien Leparoux; and Soldi Stable’s Sabi Sabi, Jose Lezcano


Kiss the Kid Likely Choice in Appleton

Hardacre Farms’ Kiss the Kid never has been better than this season at age six for owner-trainer Amy Tarrant, and looks like the horse to beat in a full field of 12 older horses entered in the 58th running of the Appleton Stakes to be run as the 11th race after the Florida Derby.

Jockey Elvis Trujillo gets a return call on Kiss the Kid after they teamed up to win the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes over the course on Jan. 10 and finish a game fourth last out in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) on Feb. 1, beaten only 1¼ lengths for it all by Kip Deville. Kiss the Kid completed his 2008 campaign with a victory in the Cliffhanger Stakes (G3) at Meadowlands on Oct. 10.

A fast pace up front in the Appleton would play to the strength of Kinsman Stable’s 5-year-old gelding Vanquisher with Carlos Montalvo aboard for Tampa Bay Downs-based trainer Greg Griffith. In two previous forays south to Gulfstream at the meet, the son of Gulch rallied to victory in the Tallahassee Stakes on Feb. 7 and a closing fourth in the Canadian Turf (G3) on Feb. 28, beaten 1¾ lengths for it all.

Completing the field are Johanna Louis Glen-Teven’s Passager, Phoenix Corp.’s Granizo, Lawrence E. Carroll’s Bold Start, Mr. Amore Stable’s Avanti Avanti, Jacqueline Tortora and partners’ Hypocrite, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Cannonball, Eddie Kenneally’s Artic Cry, Martin Cherry’s Pickapocket, Courtland Farms’ T.V. Vance and Salvatore Racing Stable’s Fagedaboutit Sal.