The first thing I noticed about the Florida Derby when I sat down to analyze the race was that the field, well, wasn’t great.
Off of his impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), Gunnevera is listed as the 9-5 favorite in Saturday’s feature from Gulfstream Park — a race that is worth 170 Road-to-the-Kentucky-Derby points. And while I think that is a reasonable price on a good, but not great (at least at this point), horse, I can’t help but notice that the second choice is Battalion Runner.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the son of Unbridled’s Song is chopped liver (few Todd Pletcher trainees are), but the fact that this guy was all-out to win an optional claiming event against Beasley, a horse that subsequently finished fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (won by the Pletcher-trained Tapwrit) is hardly encouraging — especially when one considers that Battalion Runner was 1-5 that day.
But perhaps the most damning thing about this year’s Florida Derby is its Key Race Grade.
What is a Key Race Grade, you ask? Well, several years ago, in an attempt to expand upon Steve Davidowitz’s concept of a key race (a race that yielded numerous next-out winners), I came up with a method that evaluated the strength of a race before it was run (Davidowitz’s method, while very insightful, suffered from the fact that the assessment was done after key race entrants had made a subsequent start — which, in some cases, could take months).
Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to test the method extensively, so I have no idea how good — or awful — it is, but I did make an interesting discovery insofar as the Kentucky Derby is concerned: No horse has won the Run for the Roses after making its final start in a prep graded an F since Strike the Gold in 1992.
Below is a look at how Florida Derby runners have fared in Louisville over the past 15 years, based on the grade of the race (if the field stays intact, this year’s edition gets a C):
Note: The Florida Derby had to be the horse’s final race prior to the Kentucky Derby to be considered in the chart above.
Obviously, this does not bode well for this year’s starters.
Still, the Kentucky Derby is more than a month away and I’m sure the question on many readers’ minds is “who’s going to win Saturday’s big race?”
To me, this race comes down to betting value and I would consider any horse offering a fair price (I’ll list my fair odds in a moment). However, there is one horse I will definitely be using on my tickets and that is Three Rules, who is 8-1 on the morning line.
Over the past 15 years, the Florida Derby has been won in wire-to-wire fashion four times, while five other winners were among the top three after the opening half-mile.
With State of Honor losing the blinkers that undoubtedly helped propel him to the early lead in each of his last two starts, Three Rules looks like the controlling speed Saturday. Better still, the Jose Pinchin trainee should be able to get the lead without undue stress — which was not the case last time when Irish War Cry hounded him through brisk early splits (-9 early speed ration).
If this scenario plays out and Three Rules is able to cruise through the opening four furlongs in around 48 seconds, I think the son of Gone Astray will be very tough to beat.
Below are my fair odds for the entire field:
1-STATE OF HONOR (15-1)
2-TALK LOGISTICS (20-1)
3-CHARLIE THE GREEK (50-1)
4-ALWAYS DREAMING (8-1)
6-COLEMAN ROCKY (20-1)
7-UNBRIDLED HOLIDAY (20-1)
8-IMPRESSIVE EDGE (15-1)
9-BATTALION RUNNER (6-1)
10-THREE RULES (9-2)