The Florida Derby has been producing Kentucky Derby contenders and winners for decades. Last year, Orb won both races. So did Big Brown, Barbaro, Monarchos, Thunder Gulch, and Unbridled.
So when they load the gate in Hallandale, Fla. on Saturday, trainers will be looking at the first Saturday in May, bettors will be looking for hints to enhance their exotic wagers and writers will be looking for story angles.
If there has been a theme this winter at Gulfstream Park, it has been speed. Front running victories have been common and track records have been threatened and beaten.
And Saturday brings together a cast of speed merchants for the Florida Derby who has worked more bullets than a Clint Eastwood movie. These 3-year-olds are fast. The question is: Who can sustain that speed for a mile and an eighth.
The favorite Cairo Prince probably can get the distance and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has been overly confident. A Pioneer of the Nile should be able to win the Florida Derby. But the ability of that pedigree and a 7.00 Dosage Index to win the Derby on May 3 is still very much a question.
There's no doubt that Cairo Prince is very good. But he has at least four competitors who can fly. Wildcat Red, by the sprinter D'Wildcat, is probably faster than anybody. He would not be passed in the Fountain of Youth and posted a 100 Bris speed figure. In this race however, he is a candidate to be passed in the stretch.
General A Rod lost the Fountain of Youth by a nose but got the same speed figure. And his pedigree by Roman Ruler out of a Dynaformer mare, has a real chance to carry him farther maybe even a mile and a quarter.
Todd Pletcher, always in the mix, sends out Constitution, an allowance winner who could be with the rest of the speed balls if he improves just slightly. His mile and 1/16th time was 1:42. The Fountain of Youth winner was 1:41.4.
Which brings me to the wildcard, his name is simply Spot and he jumped into the Derby fray by winning the Grade 2 Swale Stakes. That was Spot's first race for trainer Nick Zito, who has won two of the last four Florida Derbies.
If this son of Pulpit improves, and he's a stalker, I can see the race falling apart after vicious speed duel up and somebody like Spot picking up the pieces and the trophy.
The field is filled out by Matador from trainer Mark Casse, who was 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby. East Hall was 8th in the same race and runs back for trainer William Kaplan. And Allstar, an allowance winner at Calder, is the ultimate long shot.
And perhaps the bottom line for the Florida Derby: Many of these strong Kentucky Derby contenders still need points to make the field on May 3. Cairo Prince has been everybody's Derby favorite for weeks, but he skipped the Fountain of Youth, he has just 14 Derby points and if he stumbles on Saturday, he could be OUT.