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Florida Derby: Big time stakes action at Gulfstream Park

exciting action for the last big day of racing at Gulfstream Park
exciting action for the last big day of racing at Gulfstream Park
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

This Saturday, the 66th running of the Florida Derby will take place at Gulfstream Park. Post time for the Derby is scheduled for 6:48 EST, it will be the 14th and final race of the featured card for the Gulfstream meet. Of those races, eight are stakes, the final five of which culminate in and an all stakes pick five, and pick four. Each one of those races are evenly matched, and present quite a challenge for anyone attempting to get through the difficult sequence. So lets take a look at each race of the pick four and see if we can sift through and find some solid live value plays.

The big day at Gulfstream Park demands a serious pick four play. Lets start with the first leg of the sequence the 11th race; the G3 Appleton. The race is run at a mile on the turf and is scheduled for a 5:00 post time.

A 10 horse evenly matched field, the strategy here may be to eliminate as many short priced horses as you can. Starting with the 2 Salto, the Irish bred is trained by Todd Pletcher, and will be ridden by JJ Castellano, which guarantees that this horse will take money. Salto has come up short as the favorite six times since coming over to the states.

Mr. Online has run extremely well this year and has been in top form since early last fall, however in his last race the Canadian Turf, he dueled with eventual winner, Reload down the stretch. Mr. Online has offered fair value for most of those races, however if he is anywhere under his morning line odds of 5-2 he may be worth a toss out as his last race may have taken something out of him for this one.

Instead lets take a shot with the 3, Kharafa, and the 5, Hey Leroy. A five year old gelding bred in New York, Kharafa is 8-1 in the morning line, and is coming off a five month layoff. Although most of his races have been restricted to run against only NY breds, Kharafa has done very well when put up against open competition. He won his last race the Three Coins Up Stakes at Aqueduct against open company and at a very nice price of 7-1. But most importantly back in December of 2012 he ran second in the ElPrado Stakes at Gulfstream at odds of 17-1. In that race he beat out Salto who will be running in this race today, and may go off as the favorite.

Hey Leroy is a four year old who will be stepping up in class today, he has shown an affinity for running at Gulfstream Park. In eight races Hey Leroy has been out of the exacta only once. The son of Any Given Saturday has also proven competitive against competition in this race, back in January he ran second to Mr. Online at odds of 5-1. Today Hey Leroy sits at 12-1 in the morning line and may drift up in price before the call to post.

Next up is the Skip Away, a G3 race run on the dirt for older horses. The Skip Away is run at the unusual distance of a 1mile 3/16ths

This race may be the most perplexing of the sequence and if handled poorly could spell doom for your ticket. The 11 horse field features three who are predominantly turf horses (2,3,7) The 1 horse Salustio, runs on dirt, but this happens to be his first time running in North America, the four year old has spent his career in Panama.

Coming from the outside post(10) is Sr. Quisqueyano (20-1) who seemed to tire toward the end of last year. Trainer Luis Olivero gave him a three month layoff brining him back in early March, in the G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. He did not run well on that day but he was up against very tough competition in that one, and Olivares brings him right back in a much easier spot. Sr. Quisqueyano has run triple digit Beyers both at Gulfstream Park and at a distance similar to todays race, he is certainly capable of running a competitive race against this field.

The 2 horse, War Dancer (15-1) gets Joel Rosario to stick to the mount despite a weak effort earlier this month in a turf race. War Dancer is a good turf horse, who won the G2 Virginia Derby last year on the turf. After that trainer Kenneth McPeek took a chance with him in the G1 Travers and he did not run all that bad of a race. War Dancer proved himself on dirt in that race and doesn’t face anything close to the level of competition in the Skip Away.

The Pan American is a Grade 2 the proceeds the Florida Derby. With the second choice Amira’s Prince being scratched, the race will either be easier for the favorite Admiral Kitten (5), or wide open for a price. Coming out of post 10 is Newsdad (8-1), who is trained by Bill Mott. A six year old out of the sire Arch, Newsdad is 3 for 8 at Gulfstream Park, and 2 for 5 at today’s distance. His last race was his first off a one year layoff and clearly needed to stretch his legs out. Bill Mott is 25% this year when running horses second off a layoff of 180 days or longer.

Now for the final leg, the G1 Florida Derby. On paper this is a race with four main contenders: Wildcat Red (1), Cairo Prince (3), Constitution (4) and General a Rod (6). In 16 combined lifetime races they only have a total of 4 defeats, (all four were for place). The other thing is all four show a propensity for running upfront or near the lead. Hopefully the track will not be playing as speed favoring as it was for the Fountain of Youth, and if that is the case then expect the 8 horse; Spot to be closing from deep. The son of Pulpit, won the seven furlong Swale Stakes earlier this month by coming off the pace, fanned four wide the long legged grey drew off convincingly to an easy win. This looks to be an improving horse who doesn’t seem to have distance limitations in his breeding. Spot will be breaking from an outside post and should be sitting in a good stalking distance from the early speed. At 8-1 the four top contenders should take enough money that Spot will offer a square price.

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