The 59th edition of the 1 1/8 miles Florida Derby will top an all-star 12-race program that includes renewals of the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2), $150,000 Swale Stakes (G2), $150,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) and $100,000 Appleton Stakes (G3).
Rule’s win streak began with breaking his maiden at Belmont Park on Oct. 8 after a third-place debut in July at Belmont and runner-up effort at Saratoga in early September. He tuned up for the Delta Jackpot winning the Jean Laffite Stakes by eight lengths over the track and 1 1/16 miles distance at Delta Downs in early November.
Another contender that will attract solid support, perhaps second choice, will be IEAH Stable and partners’ English-bred Radiohead with Edgar Prado in the saddle for trainer Rick Dutrow. The owner-trainer team won the 2008 Florida Derby with Big Brown before son of Boundary went on to race undefeated through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1).
Radiohead won two of six starts with two seconds in England last year for trainer Brian Meehan before being sold to his current owners and finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 7 in his American debut. The son of Johannesburg returned with a strong performance winning a seven-furlong allowance race here on Feb.27 by 3 ¼ lengths.
An intriguing prospect is Ol’ Memorial Stables and C.E. Glasscock’s Soaring Empire with Eddie Castro aboard for trainer Cam Gambolati. The son of 2003 Florida Derby winner Empire Maker is making his fourth career start and first around two turns.
A $190,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Soaring Empire looked good winning a seven-furlong allowance race over the track on Feb. 25 in his first appearance since finishing third in the one-mile Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1 after a winning debut at Monmouth Park in late September.
Ol’ Memorial owner Rick Pitino is prominent in national sports news this week as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals college basketball team set to play the California Golden Bears in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening in Jacksonville.
The intriguing entry in the race that will get plenty of attention is Lael Stables’ homebred Lentenor, the highly-publicized full-brother to Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby before suffering his ultimately fatal injury in the Preakness Stakes (G1).
Jockey Alan Garcia rides Lentenor for trainer Michael Matz as he is tested on dirt for the first time after making his career debut on Polytrack at Keeneland in late October and three starts since on turf.
The son of Dynaformer finished third first out on Oct. 31, second on turf at Aqueduct in late November and broke his maiden over the Gulfstream course on Jan. 20. He came back with a runner-up effort as the favorite in an allowance race on n of Youth Day, Feb. 17.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, Julien Leparoux; Robert LaPenta’s Ice Box, Jose Lezcano; and Flying Zee Stable and Kona Stables’ Pulsion, Corey Nakatani, finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, behind Eskendereya in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) over the track and distance on Feb. 20 and will bid to improve on those results in Saturday’s race.
Completing the field are Donald Dizney’s First Dude, Ramon Dominguez; Kuehne Racing’s Game On Dude, Jeremy Rose; Robert LaPenta’s Miner’s Reserve, Kent Desormeaux; and Gary and Mary West’s Best Actor, Javier Castellano.
Trained by Dale Romans, First Dude is a homebred colt by Stephen Got Even with one win and three seconds in as many starts, most recently a head loss to Fly Down in the 1 1/8 miles allowance race over the track on Feb. 21 after a sharp maiden score going a mile on Jan. 30.
Game On Dude makes only the third start of his career for trainer Michael Mareina. The Kentucky-bred son of Awesome Again finished second in his career debut going seven furlongs here on Jan. 23 and broke his maiden by three lengths going a mile on Feb. 27.
Miner’s Reserve goes as an uncoupled entry for LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito along with Ice Box. Miner’s Reserve is a Mineshaft colt purchased for $150,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales with just two starts, both at this meet. He broke his maiden last out going a mile by 5 ½ lengths on Feb. 27 after a fourth-place debut on Jan. 23.
Best Actor is a son of Rock Hard Ten trained by Wayne Catalano was purchased for $230,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales and finished third behind Drosselmeyer in a 1 1/8 miles allowance test over the track on Jan. 31. Best Actor broke his maiden going a mile here on Jan. 7 by four lengths after three starts as a 2-year-old in Chicago and Kentucky.
Amen Hallelujah & Christine Daae Clash in Bonnie Miss
The Florida Derby will almost certainly point out contenders for the Kentucky Derby and the Bonnie Miss for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles should yield a leading prospect or two for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) the day before at Churchill Downs.
The probable favorites in the field of six 3-year-old fillies are IEAH Stables and partners’ Amen Hallelujah with Julien Leparoux aboard for trainer Rick Dutrow and Michael Imperio and Kona Stable’s Christine Daae to be ridden by Corey Nakatani for trainer Patrick Biancone.
Leparoux gets a return call on Amen Hallelujah after they teamed up for a very impressive 6 ¼ lengths victory in the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes (G2) on Feb. 27. The Florida-bred daughter of Montbrook had made all seven of her previous starts on synthetic surfaces in California, including the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita on Jan. 16.
Christine Daae is a chestnut daughter of Giant’s Causeway making her fourth career start and stakes debut in the Bonnie Miss. She finished fourth in her only start last year at Hollywood Park, but has flashed potential brilliance winning her two starts at Gulfstream, a maiden score by 8 ¾ lengths and 1 1/8 miles allowance last out on Feb. 28 by 2 ¾ lengths.
Another contender with established stakes credentials in the Bonnie Miss is Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care, winner of the Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park last fall in only her second career start for trainer Todd Pletcher after an impressive debut victory at Saratoga.
A daughter of Malibu Moon, Devil May Care experienced a very rough trip finishing 11th of 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 6 and finished fifth as the favorite in the Silverbulletday Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds on Feb. 20 in her only appearance since then after acting up at the gate before the start.
Invading from California for the Bonnie Miss is C.R.K. Stable’s Switch with jockey Tyler Baze coming along for the ride for trainer John Sadler. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Quiet American has made three starts, winning her debut at Hollywood Park in December, finishing third to Amen Hallelujah in the Santa Ynez in January and third last out in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G1) on Feb. 13, beaten a half-length by Blind Luck.
Completing the field for the Bonnie Miss are Breakin Wind Farm’s Danny’s Friend, Eduardo Nunez; and Rose Family Stable’s Joanie’s Catch, Paco Lopez.
D’Funnybone & Dixie Band Lead Cast for Swale
Paul Pompa, Jr.’s D’Funnybone won the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) on Feb. 20 as the favorite in his 3-year-old debut and will be the horse to beat in the Swale Stakes (G2) Saturday over the same seven-furlong track and distance with regular rider Edgar Prado in the saddle for trainer Rick Dutrow.
D’Funnybone was brilliant last summer in New York winning the Saratoga Special (G2) by 10 ½ lengths in August and The Futurity (G2) at Belmont Park in September by 4 ¾ lengths after being purchased privately following a win and a second to begin his career at Calder.
The only blemish on D’Funnybone’s resume came when he trailed in last of 13 after prompting the pace to the far turn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. Dutrow has suggested several times since then that the colt did not care for the synthetic surface more so than the distance of the race.
Making his 3-year-old debut in the field of nine 3-year-olds is Evelyn and Darrell Yates’ Dixie Band for trainer Wayne Catalano with jockey Julien Leparoux to ride. The Dixie Union gelding won his first three starts last year at Arlington Park, including the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3), but retired to 10th of 14 trying two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last out on Oct. 10.
Completing the field for the Swale are Susan and Jim Hill’s City Trooper, Javier Castellano; Jeff Singer and David Lanzman’s Fearless Cowboy, Alan Garcia; Donald Ming’s Gary D, Elvis Trujillo; Jacks or Better Farm’s Hear Ye Hear Ye, Jeffrey Sanchez; Anstu Stable’s Ibboyee, John Velazquez; C.R.K. Stable’s Privilaged, Tyler Baze; and Charles Galli’s Silver Craft, Jesus Castanon.
Aurora Lights & Don’t Forget Gil in Wide-Open Rampart
Chiefswood Stable’s Aurora Lights looked good winning the Sabin Stakes (G3) going a mile over the Gulfstream track on Feb. 27 by 2 ¾ lengths and Alex Brodsky’s Don’t Forget Gil drew clear for a 2 ¼ lengths victory in the Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last out on the same afternoon.
The two 4-year-old fillies face off Saturday going 1 1/8 miles in the Rampart Stakes in a field of eight fillies and mares with Cornelio Velasquez on Aurora Lights for trainer Eric Coatrieux and Ramon Dominguez atop Don’t Forget Gil for trainer Mark Hennig.
The intriguing player in the Rampart will be Paula C. Stud’s 4-year-old Venezuelan-bred filly Bambera, a winner of 16 of 18 starts in Venezuela and most recently capturing the Clasico del Caribe in Puerto Rico on Dec. 6. Regular rider Edgar Perez will be on hand to ride the daughter of Water Poet for Calder-based trainer Pablo Andrade.
Completing the field are Farnsworth Stables’ Champagne Eyes, Javier Castellano; Ersoff Racing’s Even Road, Cornelio Velasquez; Lael Stable’s Miss Match, Alan Garcia; Team Valor International’s Miss Singhsix, Julien Leparoux; and Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler’s Unrivaled Belle, Kent Desormeaux.
Kiss the Kid Bids for Appleton Repeat
Hardacre Farm’s versatile 7-year-old Kiss the Kid left South Florida last winter for summer quarters at Monmouth Park after winning the Appleton Stakes as the favorite and will be among the choices to capture the 7 ½ furlongs turf test again Saturday with jockey Eddie Castro aboard for owner-trainer Amy Tarrant.
A son of Lemon Drop Kid, Kiss the Kid has not won a race since then, but not because he hasn’t run well as he was beaten three times by a neck when second in stakes since then – the Oceanport over a ‘sloppy’ track at Monmouth Park in early August, the Meadowlands Cup (G2) in mid-October and ‘off the turf’ Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (G3) here on Jan. 10.
In one start since the Ft. Lauderdale, Kiss the Kid was never a factor chasing Quality Road home seventh last in the Donn Handicap (G1) on Feb. 6.
Completing the field of nine older horses drawn for the 59th Appleton are H B O Stable’s Almoradi, Agnes Peace’s Boots Ahead, Joyce Young and Gerald McManis’ Carson Hall, Elle Boje Farm and partners’ Rahy’s Attorney, Charles Fipke’s Society’s Chairman, Edward P. Evans’ Storm Play, Chandley Farms’ Suyeta and R.A. Hill Stable and Vic Fontana’s Together Indy.