The Florida Derby is on a pretty good run of producing Kentucky Derby winners in recent years. Four of the last 11 Florida Derby winners have gone on to wear the roses. Barbaro started the stretch of success in 2006 before tragedy struck in the Preakness. Two years later Big Brown dominated the Derby and Preakness before forgetting to show up for the Belmont. There was a break until 2013 when Orb was a somewhat surprising Kentucky Derby winner. And last year Nyquist pulled off the Florida-Kentucky double before bombing in the Preakness. He was the first undefeated Derby winner since Big Brown.
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So, will another star emerge from this year's field? The road to the Derby this year could certainly use a star. So far it has been a lot of dud performances from big names and surprising wins from horses that are tough to trust long term. Maybe this dependable race, run Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream Park, will turn things around and save this prep season. Eleven horses were entered, but only 10 at most will start - Todd Pletcher entered Battalion Runner but has no intention of running him and will send him to the Santa Anita Derby instead unless something happened to Always Dreaming. (odds are the track morning line):
Gunnevera, Javier Castellano, 9/5: This is the closest thing to a star in the field as he already has three graded stakes wins and more than $1 million in earnings to his credit. The most recent of those was in the Fountain of Youth, the key prep for this race. That was an impressive outing. He got in a lot of trouble out of the gate and was way off the pace, but he steadily gained ground, took the lead in the stretch, and never looked back. He won by more than five lengths. It's the same kind of style - minus the early contact - that he has run in his best wins. He's very talented, and he is clearly bred for this race - sire Dialed In and damsire Unbridled both won this race. He's a deserving favorite. He's dependent on the pace, though - he needs early speed to chase. If it sets up well for him he'll be tough to beat.
Always Dreaming, John Velazquez, 4/1: This horse makes me feel old - he is a son of Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, and I find it tough to believe that that horse is already old enough to have offspring of racing age. This is a Todd Pletcher horse, so he deserves respect for that alone - Pletcher has been tearing up the prep circuit this year and largely with horses that aren't in the center of the minds of bettors. This horse is making his stakes debut. He broke his maiden in his third try and then ran in an allowance on this same Gulfstream track. It was an impressive win - he wired the field and was never touched by his rider. He's intriguing and could be the best option to beat Gunnevera. In fact, an exacta box with Gunnevera and this colt is likely the way I'll go.
Three Rules, Luis Saez, 8/1: This horse won his first five races - all at Gulfstream. After that, though, he took a leap up to graded company, and it hasn't gone quite as well. He was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, second in the Swale, and third in the Fountain of Youth. He has been good but not good enough, and I expect that trend to continue - especially because he drew way outside in the starting gate. Useful in the exotics but not a win bet for me.
State of Honor, Julien Leparoux, 8/1: This Canadian-bred runner started his career at Woodbine in Toronto. He didn't accomplish too much there in six races, then he headed to Florida. He has been somewhat relevant at Tampa Bay - third in the Sam F. Davis and second in the Tampa Bay Derby. I trust Mark Casse as a trainer very much, and the horse is improving, but he hasn't yet shown enough for me to trust him. He's taking the blinkers off for the first time here, but that's still not enough to swing my opinion. An exotics play only.
Talk Logistics, Joe Bravo, 30/1: This is a Florida-bred, locally-based horse that was fourth in both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. Fourth would be a success here - he's not better than that if the other horses have their day.
Impressive Edge, Corey Lanerie, 12/1: This horse has won two of his last three, and both wins were at Gulfstream. The issue, though, is that in between the wins he ran in his only stakes race and was fourth in the Swale. Not an overwhelmingly impressive fourth, either. He won an allowance race by eight lengths last start, but that was just seven furlongs. He doesn't seem as suited for this distance. Easy pass.
Unbridled Holiday, Nik Juarez, 30/1: Like Impressive Edge, he is a son of Harlan's Holiday, who won this race in 2002. Damsire Unbridled's Song also won the Florida Derby. He has plenty of Gulfstream experience - seven starts. That's where the good news ends, though. He needed six starts to break his maiden and then was third in that allowance that Always Dreaming won. Breeding aside, he's just not good enough.
Coleman Rocky (30/1), Charlie the Greek (50/1), Quinientos (50/1): These were surprise last-minute local entrants. None of them belong. Not interested.
This Saturday is a tremendous day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in both big stakes races - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Esparza is coming off a big win at the Tampa Bay Derby, cashing big with Tapwrit, and this Saturday he looks for more horse winners. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this Saturday. The first one is the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Park and the second race is the Florida Derby at Gulfstream.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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