Five Graded Stakes Set for Florida Derby Weekend

The $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) next Saturday will be the highlight of an outstanding weekend of racing at Gulfstream Park as the 58th edition of the historic Kentucky Derby (G1) preview leads a schedule of five graded stakes to be run over three days.

A field of seven or eight is taking shape for the 1 1/8 miles Florida Derby, led by several of the nation’s most highly-regarded Kentucky Derby prospects – Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Dunkirk; Edward P. Evans’ Quality Road, John Oxley’s Beethoven and Samotawka Stables and partners’ Theregoesjojo.

Other probable starters include New Life Stable and Equus Racing Stable’s Stately Character, Korina Stable’s Sincero and one of several nominees trained by Nick Zito.

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

Post time for the first race Saturday, as is the case every day, will be 1:15 p.m.

Leading prospects for the Swale include Harold Queen’s Big Drama; Homewrecker Racing and Avalon Farm’s Custom for Carlos, Susan Moore and M and M Thoroughbreds’ Presto Change O and Soldi Stable’s Sabi Sabi.

The all-star weekend stakes action at Gulfstream gets off to a fast start Friday with the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles, the companion event to the Florida Derby that often yields top contenders for the Kentucky Oaks (G1), run the day before the Derby at Churchill Downs.

A strong cast is expected to line up for the 39th running of the Bonnie Miss, led by West Point Thoroughbreds and partners’ Justwhistledixie, the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager Pool that closed last weekend. The daughter of Dixie Union has won three straight stakes for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin – two in New York and the Davona Dale Stakes (G2) over the track here on Mar. 1.

Others listed probable/possible for the Bonnie Miss include Edward P. Evans’ Casanova Move; Katherine Ball’s Gatorette; New Life Racing Stable’s Hopeful Image, Richard Rowan’s Renda and Stevestan Stable’s Striking Dancer.

Completing the stakes lineup for the weekend will be the $150,000 Rampart Handicap (G2) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on Sunday with G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s undefeated 4-year-old filly One Caroline and Stronach Stable’s 4-year-old filly Ginger Brew, a champion in Canada last year, the most accomplished among the probable starters.

‘Bernie,’ Third in the Holy Bull, Among Lane’s End Favorites

George and Lori Hall’s West Side Bernie finished a good third in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 31 in his first and only start this year for Palm Meadows-based trainer Kelly Breen, and he will be among the favorites in his second start of the campaign in Saturday’s $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (G2) at Turfway Park.

A son of Bernstein, West Side Bernie was making his first start since a runner-up performance behind Big Drama in the Delta Jackpot (G3) at Delta Downs in Louisiana in early December and already appears to have sufficient graded-stakes earnings to assure him of a berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Three others in the Lane’s End field raced at Gulfstream earlier this year and each would likely need to win the 1 1/8 miles race on Polytrack to make the Derby field – Sand Dollar Stable and partners’ Jack Spratt (Mike Maker), Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s A.P. Cardinal (Kiaran McLaughlin) and Zayat Stables’ Bruce N Autumn (Dale Romans).

Pletcher & McPeek Tied for Lead in Trainer Title Chase

Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out Michael Tabor’s 4-year-old The Roundhouse for an impressive allowance victory Thursday at Gulfstream Park to move into a tie for the lead in the standings with Ken McPeek with 22 winners each.

McPeek has been atop the leader board since the early days of the meet, but Pletcher’s powerful stable of quality and quantity is picking up momentum as he bids for a sixth consecutive Gulfstream meet championship.

Following the top two in the trainer standings are Nick Zito third with 18 victories, followed by Peter Walder fourth at 14, Wesley Ward fifth with 13 and Bill Mott and Eddie Plesa Jr. tied for fifth with 12 apiece. Mott has won Gulfstream titles nine times previously, most recently in 2002.

The competition for leading rider honors at the session is also a tight race with only two wins separating the top five. Julien Leparoux goes into the weekend on top with 40 victories, one more than John R. Velazquez and Jose Lezcano and two more than Kent Desormeaux and Alan Garcia.