The showdown everyone expected in Saturday’s Florida Derby (Grade I) materialized, but Quality Road ended the suspense in a flash as he turned back previously unbeaten Dunkirk in track record time at Gulfstream Park to take South Florida’s major prep for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
Edward P. Evans’ son of Elusive Quality turned back a strong rally by $3.7-million yearling purchase Dunkirk to win by 1 3/4 lengths in a track record 1:47.72 for 1 1/8-miles. Jockey John Velazquez was aboard the winner, who had to survive a claim of foul by three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard third-place finisher Theregoesjojo.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Jerkens. “But you know, it’s good to be in that position.”
The result was disappointing for Dunkirk, who made a charge from well off the pace under Garrett Gomez to draw even with Quality Road at the head of the stretch. Trainer Todd Pletcher voiced displeasure after the race with the condition of the track that produced two track records on the day and seemed to be extraordinarily kind to horses with early speed.
“He (Dunkirk) got a little farther back than we wanted,” Pletcher said. “It’s just a little disappointing that the racetrack came up different today than it’s been the whole meet … Speed’s been holding up all day.”
Dunkirk earned $150,000 for his runner-up finish and that total might not be high enough to earn the gray colt a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The field is limited to the 20 horses and preference is given to horses with the highest earnings in graded stakes races. That number will drop to 19 this year if British-based Mafaaz, who earned a guaranteed spot in the Derby starting gate with a win in the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park, makes it to Churchill Downs and is entered in the Derby.
“We’ll do the right thing by the horse,” Pletcher said. “If he makes the Kentucky Derby, fine. If not, we’ll go on to the next stop.”
Danger to Society and Europe, who was entered as a possible pacesetting “rabbit” for Dunkirk, were scratched from the Florida Derby.
Quality Road was not among the original nominees to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown because of an oversight, but is expected to be the roster of late nominees that will be announced this week. The late nomination phase, which required a fee of $6,000 to make a horse eligible for the three-race series, was due by midnight (EDT) on Saturday, March 28.
The day’s other track record came in the seven-furlong Swale (GIII) for 3-year-olds, which was awarded to This One’s for Phil following the disqualification of Big Drama.
Despite the stewards’ ruling, it was a big effort for Big Drama, who ran for the first time since a victory in December in the Delta Jackpot (GIII). The David Fawkes-trained son of Montbrook saw a string of five consecutive victories snapped when he was disqualified for bumping the runner-up in the stretch.
Gomez rode This One’s for Phil. The winning time and new seven-furlong record was 1:20.88.
Also on Saturday at Gulfstream, Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Nicanor, the 3-year-old full brother to star-crossed 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, finished second in a one-mile maiden race. Nicanor finished a half-length behind Glittermans Hotel, his second runner-up finish in three career races. “We just have to give him more experience,” said trainer Michael Matz, who also trained Barbaro. “He’s a good horse. It’s just going to take some time.”
DUBAI/REGAL RANSOM UPSETS DESERT PARTY IN UAE DERBY
Dubai-based Godolphin was expected to score an impressive win in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (GII) and that’s the way it worked out. But the world racing powerhouse was surprised by which of its horses won that Kentucky Derby prep.
UAE 2000 Guineas winner Desert Party was an overwhelming favorite to take the 1 1/8-mile race, but that colt could not catch Godolphin’s Regal Ransom, who pressed the early pace, opened a clear lead in the stretch and held his Frankie Dettori-ridden stablemate safe in the run to the wire.
U.S. based jockey Alan Garcia rode Regal Ransom, who covered the distance in 1:50 over a “fast” racing surface at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba.
“He relaxed in front and when the other horse came to him, he dug deep and found a bit more,” said Garcia. “I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to ride and the plan worked perfectly.”
Both Godolphin runners are trained by Saeed bin Suroor and it appears that both will head to Churchill Downs to compete in Kentucky Derby 135. If so, they will be Godolphin’s first Kentucky Derby contenders since Essence of Dubai finished ninth to War Emblem in the 2002 renewal.
The top pair finished 15 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Soy Libriano.
WEST/SHOWDOWN SET FOR SANTA ANITA DERBY
The colts considered to be the top West Coast contenders for the Kentucky Derby – Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse – are less than a week away from their anticipated showdown in this
Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (GI).
The field for the 1 1/8-mile race is also expected to include the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) winner Chocolate Candy, the top Derby hope from the Northern California barn of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Others expected to run in Saturday’s race include Feisty Suances, Mr. Hot Stuff and Gallant Son.
Kelly Leak Wins Sunland Derby – Favored Kelly Leak rallied from far off the pace to score a 1 ½-length victory over 11 rivals in Sunday’s $800,000 Sunland Derby at New Mexico’s Sunland Park.
Mike Smith rode the winner, who is not nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
Mythical Power finished second and Scorewithcater edged Mine That Bird for third. The winning time for 1 1/8 miles over a “fast” track was 1:50.02.
EAST/I WANT REVENGE SHARP IN WORK FOR WOOD
Gotham (GIII) winner I Want Revenge, the likely favorite for Saturday’s Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct, completed his serious preparation for that race with a sharp five-furlong work over the synthetic Cushion Track surface on Sunday at California’s Hollywood Park.
The Jeff Mullins-trained son of Stephen Got Even covered the distance in :59.80, which ranked third of 28 moves at the distance. Jockey Joe Talamo was in the saddle for the work.
I Want Revenge is scheduled to ship to New York on Wednesday.
Eleven Wood Memorial winners have also won the Kentucky Derby, and three of the last nine winners of the “Run for the Roses” used the Wood as their final tune-up for the big race in Louisville