By Gene Kershner
We'll take our talents to South Beach this weekend and the all-stakes Pick Three at Gulfstream Park. The anchor leg is yet another key Kentucky Derby prep race, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a two-turn route race over 1 1/8 miles. It should be a terrific racing day on what's known as Florida Derby Preview Day at Gulfstream.
The other two legs of the Pick Three include two Grade 2 races, one for 3-year-old fillies going a mile and one for 3-year-old colts going 7 furlongs. After perusing the past performances we decided to go fairly deep in the first two legs and slim our main ticket down to two selections in the Fountain of Youth. If you follow along the Derby trail you know that the 3-year-olds are very unpredictable and surprises lurk every weekend. This weekend could be no different. Let's get after it.
First Leg -- Race 8 Davona Dale Stakes
The Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes is named after the 1979 Kentucky Oaks winning filly. She also won the elusive New York Triple Crown that same year taking the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, all Grade 1 races. She was the only filly to win the Kentucky Oaks, the Black Eyed Susan and the New York Triple Crown and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1985.
This year's edition also has some spice as 8-Pomeroy's Pistol (6-1 ML) is eligible for the $2.2 million Black-Eyed Susan bonus, since she won the Forward Gal in January. Should she add wins in the Davona Dale and the Gulfstream Park Oaks to her resume, she will have a shot at the big bonus in the Black-Eyed Susan on May 20 at Pimlico. Ramon Dominguez flies in from New York to ride the filly that has been running well over the Gulfstream strip.
We'll include her in our Pick Three as her connections will no doubt be looking to keep the bonus possibility alive in her third race off the layoff. After reviewing the Forward Gal replay, a late closing 9-Dancinginherdreams (5-2) looked like she would have overtaken Pomeroy's Pistol with another furlong. She had a bullet work on the 21st for trainer John Ward and keeps Julien Leparoux aboard.
We'll include the very competitive 5-R Heat Lightning (5-1), trained by red hot trainer Todd Pletcher. Johnny Velasquez, winner of a record five Davona Dales, has the mount on R Heat Lightning. We'll play a small backup ticket with 4-Oh Carole, winner of two straight who has the pedigree to be competitive in this race.
Second Leg - Race 9 Hutcheson Stakes
The Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes is a 7-furlong sprint with a $150,000 purse. The winner will pick up a check for $90,000 of valuable graded earnings and will have to consider whether stretching out in the Florida Derby and a shot at Kentucky Derby is worth it. This appears the most difficult race in the sequence. Any one of five or six horses would not be a surprise crossing the wire first, so we'll go deep here to stay alive to the Fountain of Youth.
My base handicap before looking at the morning line odds, favored two longer shot horses, 2-Madman Diaries (6-1) and 8-Black N Beauty (8-1). Madman Diaries comes in off a long layoff, but off a fourth place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf where he led most of the way before giving way in the stretch of the one mile race. He looks dangerous at this distance based on past performances and the Ward/Sanchez combination is solid. Black N Beauty tired in the one mile Holy Bull after superfast early fractions, giving way in the final furlong. Anytime I leave Desormeaux off my ticket he beats me; not on Saturday.
We'll include the morning line favorite 3-Travelin Man (5-2), who had a big speed figure in breaking his maiden, even though we're not high on him, but every time I've written we'll wait and see on a horse he beats me; not on Saturday. I'll also put in 6-Little Drama (20-1), the Calder shipper in this leg for David Fawkes, who will try and rekindle the Big Drama magic with Jersey Joe Bravo in the irons.
Lastly, we'll include 10-Royal Currier, who has done nothing but improve over his seven lifetime races. He comes in third off the layoff and is reunited with Elvis Trujillo, who rode him to two wins and two places at Monmouth last summer, one victory from post 11. He has the ability to go wire-to-wire for trainer Patricia Farro.
Third Leg - Race 10 Fountain of Youth Stakes
The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes is the key Derby prep race for the weekend and has drawn eight for a nice $400,000 purse and most likely a spot in the Derby 137. The big favorite will be Post Time Derby Dozen No. 1 horse, 7-To Honor and Serve (8-5), winner of the Grade 2 Nashua and Remsen Stakes last fall at Aqueduct. His work tab shows that he is fit, but the layoff and short price will make me lay off him in the main Post Time Pick Three play. We'll keep him on a backup saver ticket which will keep our total play under $40.
1-Soldat comes out of an allowance race where he crushed the opposition on a sloppy track by more than 10 lengths his first race back from placing in the aforementioned Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Trainer Kieran McLaughlin is on fire over the last two weeks, winning four of his last nine races. He broke his maiden in a Grade 3 turf race at Saratoga. He's faced top-notch competition and has held his own, he would not surprise by winning this one going away.
The other horse to consider is 2-Gourmet Dinner in the final leg and we'll include him. This is based on the key Holy Bull race angle, where last week's Risen Star winner Mucho Macho Man finished fourth, three lengths behind Gourmet Dinner. He can handle the 9 furlongs and has been working very well during his time at Gulfstream.
Post Time Tickets:
Main Ticket $1 Pick Three: 5,8,9/2,3,6,8,10/1,2 = $30
Backup $1 Pick Three: 4/2,3,6/1 = $3
Backup $1 Pick Three: 5,8,9/2,3/7 = $6
Look for an update to the Post Time Derby Dozen on Monday, when we unveil our selections that will be submitted to the Wireplayers.com Volume III poll.
Good luck and let's cash some tickets!
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.