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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 25, 2021  —  At first blush, all the major players are recognizable and appear to have a significant talent edge over their rivals. But what makes the handicapping exercise somewhat vexing is that it might be easier to project a winner than the actual pacesetter.

Who’s out first? I don’t know. Third base…

Let’s think the puzzle through and see where we land. Below is the field listed by post and program number order, with early line odds:

1-NOVA RAGS (12-1):  Taking a flyer here guessing that he will set the pace. Bill Mott and Junior Alvarado are very good at their day jobs and presumably good handicappers, too. They will look at the lineup and wonder who will be in front. When no horse leaps off the page, they may conclude: Why not us? Why not, indeed. When last seen he was a game second to stablemate Candy Man Rocket in the G3 Sam F Davis. Previously, he broke maiden on debut at 6 furlongs and won Tampa Bay’s Pasco at seven, and his pace figures in the flat-mile G3 Gotham would have him placed forwardly here. He has the rail, so it’s either lead or get out of the way. A leave and a tuck could be the perfect trip to victory. Mott admitted it will take a top effort, first or second, to start thinking Kentucky Derby. We couldn’t agree more. Talent but with much to prove.

2-QUANTUM LEAP (20-1):  The chances of your still being competitive in what’s left of your NCAA Tournament bracket are about equal to this colt’s chance of victory. He does have the benefit of a surface win at the distance, a career first in both categories and makes his third start off a layup, precisely where the positives end.

3-JIRAFALES (30-1):  Has been compromised by troubled starts in each of three career runs and trainer Gustavo Delgado is a profitable 22% efficient  in the LAY-3 scenario. Blinkers got him a little closer to Greatest Honour in their second meeting, but he still has 10 lengths to make up. Was 106-1 in the G2 Fountain of Youth; looks like more of the same here.

4-SOUTHERN PASSAGE (30-1):  Finished well for place behind undefeated prospect Prevalence at one mile here MAR 11, has distance aptitude on both sides of his pedigree, and it’s Dale Upset Romans with fellow hardboot Corey Lanerie in the tack. But this is a completely different ballgame.

5-KNOWN AGENDA (5-1): It’s not so that he’s the only two-time winner at today’s trip, had an excuse when he couldn’t catch his breath early in the Sam F Davis and came charging strongly too late, that he showed a lot more focus on blinkers taking his surface debut, or even that he was the last horse to finish ahead of Greatest Honor. It’s the fact that the two of them finished heads apart at this trip on NOV 8 and it was 21 lengths back to the third finisher, he came back to win his next start. He loses Lasix today but keeps the blinkers and Irad Ortiz and is saddled by a man looking to win this storied event for a sixth time. Major player.

6-SIGILOSO (30-1):  Broke maiden in his second start around two turns and has raced back twice under similar conditions with no success. One of two here saddled by Antonio Sano. If the intention were to go turf to dirt around two turns over a kinder surface, it’s mission accomplished. Now comes the really hard part.

7-GREATEST HONOUR (6-5):  Went to visit him one morning at Payson Park last week and he sure is an imposing individual. He impressed with his stature, presence, and was very tolerant for a Tapit, even if he were a tad impatient, shooing a visitor’s hand away when an interloper tried to love on him a little. Unfortunately, the barn was out of peppermints we hoped would act as a peace offering. We thanked the staff for their hospitality, wished the colt luck and we were on our way. His talent level is unquestioned and great horses are supposed to overcome adversity. Saturday’s stiffest competition will be the projected lack of pace on paper in the deepest field of his career.

8-SOUP AND SANDWICH (20-1): Interesting Florida Derby dark horse. Undefeated in two starts, he has sprint speed based on his wire win on debut setting a solid pace at 6-1/2 furlongs, winning by 7-1/2 lengths at the end then got two turn experience and conditioning at deepish Tampa Bay going one mile and 40 yards in second start. Hard to gauge that performance given that he beat only two rivals. By all-everything Into Mischief, grandson of Tapit worked a bullet and near bullet at Palm Meadows in preparation for this and Mark Casse knows how to do this. In Johnny Velazquez he has the best position rider in the game. Legitimate price shot.

9-COLLABORATE (6-1): An Into Mischief in every stall–at least in the one right next door. Disappointed in a heavily bet debut in which he finished fifth, beaten less than two lengths, it was a race in which the third horse came back to break maiden at 7 furlongs by a city block. This colt came back at one mile and broke maiden by an even dozen, driven to establish margin leaving headstretch and won eased up inside the final sixteenth, living up to the barn hype and betting dollars. There’s no telling how good he can be, and these two Into Mischief colts are capable of showing high speed assuming a clean break for either or both and prove the key to victory ultimately for any of the major horses. Fascinating that they are drawn outside and will need to establish position given their lack of experience.

10-SPIELBERG (4-1): worked his way East by virtue of his excellent second to undefeated juvenile champion Essential Quality following a very troubled start and demonstrating a strong late kick, unexpected given the seven races that preceded the G3 Southwest in the slop at Oaklawn Park. The bad news is that many days of biblical rains rendered the inside portion of the surface so deep it required shoveling the goop off the inside portion of the track to the other side of the fence so that the rain and a place to run off as the surface dried—in short, one of the deadest rails we’ve ever seen. And here comes Spielberg down the center of the track. Comes off a Bullet Bob-style 59 2/5, second best of 84 at 5 furlongs Mr 21. Pedigree, experience, “California speed” and Javier make him a formidable rival.

11-PAPETU (15-1): Has danced all the South Florida prep dances and acquitted himself admirably with a Mucho Macho Man placing, losing third by less than a length in the G3 Holy Bull and a good third from a wide draw in the G2 Fountain of Youth, coming from last into second at headstretch but settled for third when the moderately-paced loose-leading Drain the Clock stayed on with the help of inside position for the first-finish-line mile and a sixteenth. The Dialed On colt is hardy stock, as his three-quarter mile preparation on MAR 20 over a deeper “Calder” surface in 1:12 4/5 attests. Whatever the dynamics, he’s a tryer. Of course, he is terribly drawn in post 11 which is only one slip wider than his starting point last out. Could be the “O Besos” of the Florida Derby.



EXOTICA:  Known Agenda to win at 3-1 or greater. Exacta Box Greatest Honour and Known Agenda. Trifecta Wheel: 5.7 // 5.7 // Superfecta Wheel: 7 // 5 // // Superfecta Wheel: 7 // // 5 //

Suggested wagers always at proportional minimums: $1 Exacta, 50-Cent Trifecta, 10-Cent Superfecta. $2 Win. Larger depending on bankroll and risk tolerance

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14 Responses

  1. JP,

    Looks like a lot of the speed draws outside in this one and we know how tough those outside posts can be at Gulfstream at 9 furlongs. Should be interesting!


  2. Exactly right Peter, that’s why the opening reference about not knowing where the pace will come from exactly. Some rider catches a flyer out of the gate throws pre-race strategy out the window.

    But how often have we seen races where there are several likely speed suspects and the pace never develops. Ultimately, the key to this will be the 9 furlong trip.

  3. Pete DIGiovanni says:

    March 24, 2021 at 5:28 pm Edit
    John. Hope you are well. Quite a card for Florida Derby Day. I respect the Shug horse but I really like Spielberg in this spot. A good break is essential but he has a great cruising speed and he should be 7-2, 4-1. Taking a shot here

    1. Pete, as stated earlier, Spielberg a tough read for us. Has he risen to a new level? Did a compromised start help him find a new, more effective style? Was it the strong outside bias that led to his big run at Oaklawn? Is he a mud-lark? I prefer to see that kind of effort one more time. Also as previously and often stated: That’s why they run the races. Can’t wait; interesting dynamics and possibly a legitimate new star on the horizon

  4. March 27,2021

    Grade 1 Florida Derby

    14th- This one isn’t as cut and dried as it may look. Greatest Honor has enough points to get in the Kentucky Derby but there are some who need the points in this race to get in. This is they’re shot at making the Derby. Let’s take a peek. Nova Rags, because of his connections and the two he had run as a 3 year old will draw some attention, just not from me. he’s about 10 lengths too slow.

    Quantum Leap is going from Maiden to Grade 1 competition for Ian Wilkes, who for the last 90 days has been successful at an 9% strike rate. He’s slow also and his future may be on the grass.

    Jirafales and Southern Passage both do very little to make me believe they can hit the board.

    Known Agenda (5) last puts him in the mix, is in capable hands (Pletcher) and when paired with Ortiz Jr. has been winning at a 32% win rate. CONTENDER.

    Greatest Honor (7) is clearly the one to beat and the most probable winner. he’s 3/3 at GP BUT his running style may force Ortiz to be wide on the first turn losing a couple of valuable length’s. He won’t put this horse in traffic and I can see a wide trip in his destiny.

    Soup and Sandwich regressed and still won his last (first time around 2 turns) has some speed and will be part of the pace. Not for me.

    Collaborate (9) broke his maiden by 12.5 length’s, like Quantum Leap he’s going from a maiden win into a Grade 1 but there are some things to like. His trainer S.A. Joseph Jr. is hitting at a 21% strike rate, has Gaffalione in the irons and the pair have been successful hitting 25% winner’s when they team up. He’s fast enough to get a piece of this and has enough speed to avoid a wide trip. Any improvement and he’s right there. Could also be a top grass horse down the road. CONTENDER

    Spielberg (10) Got a wide draw and Castellano will need to use him early to take a good position. His last was as fast as Greatest Honor has ever run, will not be the favorite, has Baffert as his trainer and absolutely needs the points to get in the derby. Was it the slop? or did he take a huge step forward? First time Castellano. Fast works for this one. Mixed signals. Contender.

    Papetu is fast enough to get a check but draws the far outside, Isn’t fast enough to take a good position and has plenty of speed to his inside. This will be his 4th race in 65 days ridden by a 12% jockey whose teamed with Sano only 9 times in 2 years. Too much to do.

    So box the 5,7,9,10 in your tri’s and supers. A win bet on either Known Agenda or Spielberg (Dutch bet or the longer of the 2) and as usual “Let’s go get those bad guys.” Good Luck to all, Stay safe and be well-Vin O

  5. We see this much the same way view on virtually all contenders. It’s a day later and not any wiser as to how the dynamics will shake out. If pace is faster or slower than I think is a 50-50 proposition. Really interesting as nothing would surprise, except a win by one of the no-hopers.

  6. Major player is right. Son of Curlin vaults to the front of Dy prime contenders. Not sure about the ride on Greatest Honour but I guess that’s his running style. If Soup and Sandwich didn’t “sandwich” your two top picks you would have won it all. Soup ran a good race to hold place, IMO.

  7. Geez, I observe that yet another long shot managed to finish second rather easily in the Florida Derby to ‘wipe out’ a considerable number of vertical wagers.

    The word ‘if’ is used quite frequently in the lexicon of Thoroughbred racing conversation; goes along with ‘should ah’, ‘could ah,’ and ‘would ah’.

    Anyone given any thought as to how Thoroughbred racing will survive when Pletcher and Baffert retire?

  8. Well let’s see.

    To name a few, Bill Mott’s son Riley has/is training a string on his own; Christophe Clement’s son, Miquel, helped the Hall of Fame nominee have a career year in 2020, and Reeve McGaughey also helps out dad and has gone on his own occasionally, and Jimmy Bond’s two sons are doing excellent work for that outfit.

    If racing does survive what is certain to be a challenging future, it will be in good hands.

  9. Oh, almost forgot.

    With regard to a longshot runnerup in the FL Derby, we were lucky. We thought 3-1 or more would be a fair price on Value horse Known Agenda. Since were were getting 5-1, we took Known Agenda first and second in exactas with five logical suspects and were happy to see Soup and Sandwich stay on for the place. It is often preferable to be lucky than smart.

    1. Nice call there. Now all you gotta do is repeat it in the Wood and the Blue Grass on Saturday!

      1. Gonna’ try Doc, you know that. Handicapper’s only as good as their last winner.

        If you’re ion Capital District, think I’ll be on with Rodger Wyland ESPN radio Friday morning talking Wood, etc. No time yet but usually around 11:30. Will update once I hear…


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