Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby Day card Saturday features 14 races, 10 of them stakes, culminating with the $1 million key Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown prep in the finale. But Race 13 just before the main event could be the day's best betting heat.
STEADY ON and WINFROMWITHIN are graded stakes-placed. This listed stakes includes several listed winners. GRAY'S FABLE, WINFROMWITHIN and FORT WASHINGTON arguably have kept the strongest company lines over time.
STRIKER, WINFROMWITHIN, CHURCHTOWN, ROARING FORTIES and COUNTY FINAL all have some interest in the front end. Several others would prefer to press the tempo. This pace should be well above-average and likely downright hot. It should give late runners their best chance to strut their stuff in the stretch.
Here are my horse-by-horse notes.
1-HE'SPUREGOLD: Despite several other races sprinkled between, he's won his last 3 turf miles, each time with a style about 3 lengths off the pace. Should save ground from the rail and Paco Lopez knows him well and rides aggressively. There should be a lot of early speed trying to drop over on him, tightening things up.
2-SOUPER DORMY: After fighting jockey Edgard Zayas last time in the Canadian Turf, the rider change to Emisael Jaramillo will be about trying to get him to relax. Poor efforts in 2 tries without Lasix on the formline are a concern without the medication again Saturday.
3-GRAY'S FABLE: Fourth beaten 2 lengths in this race last year, he comes into 2023 with the benefit of a prep for this race. Note last year he won second-off-the-layoff in this same form cycle. Late-running Joel Rosario should be a great fit and he's one to fear late.
4-STRIKER: Wired at Tampa behind legit fractions in February when going sprint-to-route for the first time. By War Front, should fit well again at these mile trips, but the pace will be a concern as to how much pressure he takes. A trio of bullet workouts since the '23 return makes you respect this lightly raced 5-year-old.
5-FORT WASHINGTON: Big-time closer walks out of the gate and often gives himself too much to do. The public rarely bets him anymore, which could be good news on Saturday if you like him, and I do. The 48-1/5 opening half-mile in the Canadian Turf gave him no pace help whatsoever and he still almost won it. This pace will cook up front and give Jose Ortiz every chance to time it. His only misfires have come on courses with a lot of give in them. The firmer the better Saturday.
6-STEADY ON: Just as FORT WASHINGTON was compromised by a slow pace in the Canadian Turf, STEADY ON had a valid alibi when having to overcome post 10 of 10. Better draw here puts the Todd Pletcher trainee absolutely in the hunt. The pace-presser could find himself with a lot of company and challenges in front of him. At expected shorter odds, it's a lot to overcome in terms of pace.
7-WINFROMWITHIN (pictured above): He's lost margin in the stretch in 4 of his last 5 starts, but the time he held strongest was his lone mile bid during that span. Very consistent, but the pace scenario will make him work as hard as he's ever had to work.
8-LUCKY CURLIN: Claimed last time out Feb. 26 for $50,000, this is a tough step up in class. He's got some pace versatility, but you're calling upon a 3% jockey in 2023 to push all the right buttons in what could be a wild chase.
9-CHURCHTOWN: A wider draw and aggressive early rider in Luis Saez put the pressure on this early speedster to be hard-used from the gate. He's been off since December and has lost margin in the final call more times than not in his 9-race career. Bullet drills for conservative barn indicate he might be too fresh for his own good against this set-up.
10-ROARING FORTIES: Sprinter stretched out to wire Florida-breds in January's Sunshine Turf, but this will be a tougher task from a tough post. Should be among a vast group trying to cross over the face of the field into the clubhouse turn.
11- COUNTY FINAL: Turf sprinter picks a difficult spot to stretch out just from the pace heat standpoint, but less a post 11 draw. Since being claimed by Saffie Joseph in November, they've tried a series of different races from dirt sprints to turf sprints now to a turf mile trying to figure out where he fits. The 0-3 results leading into this don't inspire confidence.
12-DREAMS OF TOMORROW: A pace-presser or mid-pack runner in most of his starts, there's a likely chance he gets hung wide into the clubhouse turn from this post. Consistent sort never misfires and ran maybe the race of his life last out in December in allowance company at Tampa. Facing horses like Analyze It and Atone in allowance company give his running lines more strength than a lack of stakes appearances might suggest.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
STEADY ON is 6-6 in the superfecta in route races and it would be on script for Todd Pletcher to have a huge undercard on a big day at Gulfstream like this.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
FORT WASHINGTON is set up perfectly here for his consistent late run and has been 30-1, 11-1 and 13-1 in his last 3.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$60 win FORT WASHINGTON. $20 exacta box FORT WASHINGTON and STEADY ON ($40)