Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Derby Dozen at Gulfstream, Favorite Draws Post 12

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., Mar. 26, 2008---

A full field of 12 three-year-olds slouching towards Louisville on Mays first Saturday will battle for the lions share of the $1-million Florida Derby purse at 5:45 p.m. EDT on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Early line favorite Big Brown, undefeated in two lifetime starts by a combined margin of 24 lengths, drew the extreme outside position. No horse from post 12 has won a nine-furlong race since the Gulfstream track was reconfigured and resurfaced in 2005. In fact, there have been no winners from post 11.

Were just looking for our horse to go out there and run his race, trainer Rick Dutrow said. If he can do that, I feel that they have us to beat. Kent Desormeaux will ride the 3-1 early choice of linemaker Chuck Streva.

Id rather be outside than inside, said IEAH Stable managing partner Michael Ivarone by telephone. Hes got good tactical speed and Kent will get him out there in a good spot. If he runs his race, were confident.

Elysium Fields, an excellent second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes after leaving from post position 9, drew post position 8 for his third start of the year. The 4-1 second favorite attracts Eibar Coa on the re-ride and the son of El Prado has been working extremely well for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Other notable runners are Fierce Wind, a winner of three straight including the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs last time out for trainer Nick Zito, starting from the rail and is the 6-1 fourth choice beneath Cornelio Velasquez.

Peruvian wonder Tomcito is 12-1 for his American debut. He is a winner of four of five starts, including victories at the Kentucky Derby distance of 10 furlongs and the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes. The mile and a half Derby Nacional is a Group 1 event. The $7,500 Keeneland September yearling is trained by Dante Zanelli and will be ridden by a rejuvenated Jorge Chavez.

Nicks horse [Fierce Wind] is definitely the one to beat, said Zanelli. He has the experience and won his last three races. Big Brown is a horse to beat, but he has to prove himself the same way we have to prove ourselves.

The Florida Derby is replete with talent but no established stars to match the accomplishments of divisional leading Pyro. Grade 1 Hopeful winner Majestic Warrior is making his second start at 3, beneath Rene Douglas, and is 15-1 on the early line for trainer Bill Mott.

In an HRI interview Wednesday, Mott expressed concern with the possibility of a wide draw. You certainly dont want to draw 11 or 12. There are a lot of other options and we dont necessarily have to run Saturday. Majestic Warrior drew post 10, so Mott may be mulling those options.

The final major contender is the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained Hey Byrn, third early-line choice at 5-1. The local hero won both starts at 3 over the Gulfstream strip by a combined 20- lengths, including his last at the Florida Derby distance. Jose Lezcano replaces Edgar Prado, who will be in Dubai Saturday to ride Benny The Bull and Diamond Stripes for Dutrow.

The draw certainly benefited Zitos Fierce Wind, just as the rail helped his Cool Coal Man in the Fountain of Youth. A front-running winner in two of his last three starts, he showed a new off-the-pace dimension winning the Sam Davis. In a race loaded with mid-moving speed, Velasquez is certain to keep him in the fray from the outset.

Should the pace heat up dramatically, the major beneficiaries would be Majestic Warrior, who made a strong wide middle move before tiring in the Louisiana Derby, and Tomcito, who comes from the clouds the way the remarkable Venezuelan Canonero II did winning the 1971 Kentucky Derby.

This renewal of the Florida Derby is exciting because any one, or several, could jump up to the status of major Kentucky Derby contender. Given the race dynamics and a preliminary look at the past performances, it appears Elysium Fields will rule a slight post-time favorite, followed closely by Big Brown and Cool Coal Man.

In any case, the 57th Florida Derby is a great betting race in which the favorite should be no less than 4-1. If there ever was a race in which the post-time odds were fundamental to wagering success, its this one. The post draw assured that.

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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Mott Focused on Kentucky Derby Prize

INDIANTOWN, Fla., Mar. 25, 2008---

Using the leeward side of the viewing stand that overlooks the Payson Park training track to brace himself against brisk winds and 53-degree temperatures, the horseman stood trackside beneath a high sky awaiting the final horse in his second set of the morning to come into view.

On foot or astride his pony, Bill Mott never takes his eyes off the prize.

Extending my hand, I gave my standard wiseguy greeting to anyone who hadnt returned a recent phone call. You must have me on your pay-no-mind list.

Ive been a little busy, said the youngest trainer ever inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, now moving away from the concrete windbreaker and ducking under the outside rail onto the Payson surface, stopwatch in right hand.

Almost at once, a gorgeous, long-striding chestnut came flying into view. Here comes a horse that won the Sunshine Millions and finished second in the Big Cap, the trainer said.

Go Between? After Mott nodded yes, what I left unsaid was that Garrett Gomez gave him a brilliant ride in the Sunshine Classic, and that 5-1 was a square price.

In the next instant Mott was gone. Going back to the barn. Ive got one more set to go out. See you over there, he motioned, pointing in the direction of barn 3-B.

I climbed the steps of the viewing stand to get a better view of the deepish, one mile oval. I asked Shug McGaughey if the gloves he was wearing were for sale. He smiled to acknowledge the not so facetious question but clearly never entertained the notion.

We chatted, lamenting the current quality of the day-to-day fare at Gulfstream Park. McGaughey worries that if present decline of top class racing at Gulfstream is allowed to continue another few years the track might never recover. His is not a minority view.

Returning to the stands leeward side where I first encountered Mott, Nick Caras and Humberto Chavez, both of the New York division of Race Track Chaplaincy of America, were informing horsemen there would be a worship service at 7:30 p.m. at the dorms by the basketball court.

Moving 20 feet in our direction, Christophe Clement walked over, extended a greeting, smiled, and said: This looks like a good place to be, a handicapper on one side and a chaplain on the other.

A regular kidder that Clement.

Back at Barn 3-B, Mott was making sure that Court Vision--a strong-finish Fountain of Youth third and who runs next in the Wood Memorial a week from Saturday--was comfortable, that the blanket was comfy snug but not too tight. I thought he ran good in the Fountain of Youth. He was just too far back at [for Gulfstream]. But if he wants to give us a reason to go to the Derby with a good chance, he needs to run a strong race in the Wood.

Majestic Warrior, who runs in Saturdays Florida Derby, is doing very well. On its face that would be trainer speak, but from Mott its high praise. He made a big move in [the Louisiana Derby], got something out of it, and came back good. The race took nothing out of him, didnt set him back.

Theres no added pressure on Mott or the horse even if Majestic Warrior was bred by George Steinbrenner, who retains a major interest in the colt. He would love to be in the [Derby], but not just to be in it.

When I ran Blue Burner, it was my choice. He was second in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Wood and thought he earned his chance. Well see where were at with [Majestic Warrior] on Saturday and go from there. Im still learning about him, still trying to figure him out.

In the stall directly adjacent to Majestic Warriors is Z Humor, Motts third Derby hopeful, who runs next in the Illinois Derby, same day as the Wood. His effort will determine his [Kentucky Derby] status. We need to see where he fits.

When conjuring up Bill Mott, what comes to mind is a deliberate demeanor that doesnt offer more than is asked, probably the South Dakota in him. His words are measured, as if carefully thought through the instant before speaking. He gives the impression of a man constantly playing a game of chess with himself.

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Im sitting on some nice horses, Mott admitted. Ive been excited all winter. You get up in the morning thinking about what youre going to do that day. You need to do it right, and youve got to do it right for everybody. You have to figure out the best way to get them there.

Then he allowed himself this. Id just like to be on the lead at the eighth pole in the Derby. Then he threw his head back, and laughed.

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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Monday, March 24, 2008

Sometimes, You Can’t Even Win for Winning

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., Mar. 23, 2008---

Easter Sunday might have come early this year but thankfully the Florida Derby didnt. If it had, the million dollar Grade 1 would have needed to be canceled, as was Saturdays Gulfstream Park card following the sixth race.

If youve spent a fair amount of time around the racetrack, you knew what was coming when post time for the sixth was delayed for approximately seven minutes while the jockeys held a meeting to discuss the conditions.

The surface at Gulfstream Park has been quite speed favoring of late but there werent any complaints relative to its safety. On this issue the racetrack rumor mill had been dormant. So, how bad was yesterdays rainstorm?
Women were walking barefoot in and out of the elevators on the first floor. The second floor had three-foot wide puddles at the top at the top of the escalators a couple of inches deep. These areas, mind you, were under cover. Employees said there were puddles over three feet deep in some sections of their parking area.

But the rain just kept coming, in waves, the strong winds pushing it sideways. Areas from North Miami Beach, a few miles to the south of Hallandale, to Ft. Lauderdale, about 10 miles to the north, received anywhere from 3.5 to five inches of rain in less than three hours.

Miserable conditions seems an inadequate description. At times, visibility was extremely limited, the worst of the torrents appearing to come after the riders made their decision not to ride out a card that included the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes.

Frank Stronach really cant catch a break. Not only did he lose a half-day of live receipts, live customers, with flooded streets hindering access to and from the track, but his streaking Sugar Swirl looked impossible to beat on paper as the 7-5 Forward Gal favorite vs. six rivals.

The jockeys canceled a program that began before the first race with them autographing posters for fans who lined up early and often for the souvenir. The customers seemed appreciative, judging from the smiling faces, and the jocks appeared to be having some good natured fun of their own.

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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