The addition of blinkers last season made an immediate impact on First Captain, who captured the Pimlico Special (G3) and later placed in the Suburban (G2) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). The five-year-old will begin what his connections hope will be an even better campaign on Saturday in the $150,000 Ghostzapper (G3) at Gulfstream Park, a 1 1/16-mile affair that is one of numerous stakes on the Florida Derby Day program.
Trained by Shug McGaughey, First Captain will also look to erase the memories of a dull performance in his 2022 finale, a last-of-five finish as a strong favorite in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland in late November.
Simplification has placed twice in three starts during the Gulfstream winter meet, finishing third in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), but the four-year-old is winless in nine outings since the 2022 Fountain of Youth (G2). Chilean import O’Connor, meanwhile, made a favorable impression in his U.S. debut in an allowance last October, but disappointed when fourth in the Holiday’s Holiday and was always far back in the Pegasus World Cup (G1).
“The Harlan’s Holiday I thought he would win and he got beat, and after that my expectations were more reserved,” trainer Saffie Joseph said. “He’s going to need to rebound and come back to form, and if he run like he did in his first two races he should be very tough.”
In other undercard action:
Personal Best will look to make it two stakes wins in a row in the $150,000 Orchid (G3) for fillies and mares over 1 1/2 miles on the turf. The McGaughey-trained filly turned in a terrific kick to capture the La Prevoyante (G3) by a neck over returning rival Transient in late January.
Trainer Christophe Clement will saddle a pair of German-bred imports for their respective U.S. debuts, the most notable being Amazing Grace. Winner at Group 2 level at Baden-Baden in September, Amazing Grace subsequently finish a solid third to eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Rebel’s Romance in the Preis von Europa (G1) at Cologne.
Abaan is the lone apparent speed in the $200,000 Pan American (G2) over 12 furlongs on the turf, a race he finished second in last year, but the gelding enters in declining form. Likely to be of more interest to bettors is Eddie Read (G2) winner Master Piece, who finished third in the Mac Diarmida (G2) last out. Novo Sol, third in the 2022 Pan American, offers some appeal in his first start since early December, as do the Mike Maker-trained duo of Bay Street Money and Therapist.
Weyburn looks a solid prospect to defend his title in the $100,000 Sir Shackleton S. for older horses over seven furlongs on the main track, with Dean Delivers, Octane, and My Prankster the other logical contenders.
Another likely favorite is Marketsegmentation in the $150,000 Sand Springs S. for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. A veteran of only four starts to date, the Chad Brown-trained filly missed by only a length in her stakes debut in the Feb. 4 Endeavour (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
The $150,000 Appleton S., for older horses at one mile on the grass, looks more contentious. Contenders include Striker, Fort Washington, Steady On, and Winfromwithin.