The GI Florida Derby


Saturday March 29 – Gulfstream Park

Get Gulfstream Park PPs for Saturday

Race Fourteen
Scheduled post time 6:48pm ET

In the G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream (Race 14, Scheduled Post Time 6:48 PM ET), Cairo Prince (#3, 9-5) comes in off a layoff — well, we don’t consider 63 days to be a layoff in this day and age, so you won’t see a layoff line in our PPs. Suffice to say that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gave him a break after he drew away to crush his opponents in the Holy Bull, his 4th race in the 111 days since his debut win at Belmont in October. Cairo Prince earned a TFUS speed figure of 107 for the Holy Bull, the best number that anybody in this field has ever run. After three weeks off to frolic in the sun, he’s worked out at the Palm Meadows training facility every Saturday.

The risk with the strategy is that Cairo Prince, sitting just two points above what is currently the cutoff line to qualify for the Derby, needs to finish at least 4th, which would earn him ten points (the distribution is 100-40-20-10), and most likely assure him of a spot. McLaughlin doesn’t seem too worried though.

“We’re in a good spot (in post No. 3) with speed on the inside and outside of us. We’re happy. He’s doing well.” [Lexington Herald-Leader]

Now, we love our Pace Projector. We think it’s awesome. We also think it’s wrong as far as this race is concerned.

Cairo Prince is projected to be the early leader. As his trainer indicates, it seems far more likely that he will let the speed inside (Wildcat Red [#1, 3-1]) and outside (General a Rod [#6, 7-2]) do what they do best, and be perfectly content with a perfectly perfect trip tucked in behind them. Cairo Prince, as per our style designation, is a tracker.

flderby-cpHe tracked the fast paces of the Nashua and the Holy Bull, running fast enough early to earn him the top early pace figure (and thus, front-running status in the Pace Projector) in the race. But he also tracked the absurdly slow pace of the Remsen. Some criticized jockey Luis Saez for his ride in the latter. But the horse was running according to his style. There’s little reason to expect anything different here unless extraordinary circumstances dictate. On paper –and forgetting for now the possibility of a pervasive speed bias like the one we saw on Fountain of Youth day –this race sets up perfectly for him.

Downside for Cairo Prince? Well, he did have a pretty perfect trip in the Holy Bull. And other than third-place finisher Intense Holiday, who went on to win the Risen Star, the horses who have run back have not particularly distinguished themselves. Considering the way he powerfully strode away from them though, that seems a minor criticism. He figures, with his tactical speed, to have a perfect trip again. And the quality of these opponents remains to be seen.

General a Rod and Wildcat Red pulled an Alydar-Affirmed, hooking up for virtually the entire length of the Fountain of Youth. They each earned TFUS speed figures of 103. They have identical early pace figures of 100 (note that they are rated dead even in Pace Projector). We ourselves can only guess as to whether either of them will attempt to alter his strategy, so let’s hear what the trainers have to say. Trainer Jose Garoffalo, noting that Wildcat Red drew the rail, told Clocker Mike Welsch in the Form: “He’s going to be the speed of the race, so the post position is going to favor him.” While Michael Maker said of General a Rod:

“I’m very pleased to be able to sit outside Wildcat Red again…I’ll leave it up to Joel [Rosario], but if Constitution pushes Wildcat Red early, we’ll be able to sit behind him this time.”

Well, there you go. Straight from the horses’ mouths, so to speak. Since we feel that the lightly raced Constitution (4-1) has yet to show the kind of speed that he’d need to run with the two confirmed speedballs, and figuring that Javier Castellano will not make an extra effort to do so, let’s presume that the race will unfold as the trainers said. We still believe that General a Rod is the more likely of the two to last the nine furlongs. Besides his having the better pedigree rating for dirt routes–75 to 66–he’s a son of the Haskell winner Roman Ruler out of a mare by the major distance influence Dynaformer. We look for him to turn the table on his rival with the added ground.

The aforementioned Constitution is unbeaten in two career tries, earning TFUS speed figures (98 and 97) that are a notch below the aforementioned top contenders. He earned the latter figure when setting a slow pace in his allowance win on the speed-favoring track in his allowance win on Fountain of Youth day. Obviously highly regarded by his connections, this son of Tapit, out of a Distorted Humor half-sister to the G1 (sprint) winner Emcee, is eligible to improve. But we would reserve him for use underneath.

When Spot (8-1) won the Swale earlier this month, trainer Nick Zito seemed hesitant about the Derby Trail. But Derby Fever hits hard. Here he is, stretching out beyond seven furlongs on dirt for the first time. (An attempt last year at a mile on turf resulted in dismal failure.) Zito surely has a history of success in this race, but his last two winners, Ice Box and Dialed In, both came into the race after already having run well at this very distance. How do I remember that? I don’t. But monthly unlimited subscribers can access race charts going back to 2004. Just for fun.

Spot, by Pulpit out of a Quiet American mare, has a fine pedigree rating of 89 for dirt routes. But with a career-best speed figure of 89, he has a long way to move up in order to challenge these.

Any of the other three would be quite a surprise should he land anywhere in the money; but we will point out, in case the Pace Projector proves us wrong and the pace completely melts down, that Matador (#2, 15-1) and East Hall (#5, 20-1) own the top late pace ratings in the field.

Selections: We’ll try a cold exacta of Cairo Prince over General a Rod if the price is sufficient, and consider reversing should the usual big race day speed bias appear to be pervasive.


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