May 11, 2021

Four points to ponder: 2021 Florida Derby

Greatest Honour
Greatest Honour wins the Fountain Of Youth Stakes (Coglianese Photos/Lauren King)

Of the four Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring races on Saturday, the Florida Derby (G1) should have the biggest impact on the Triple Crown trail. Aside from its historical stature, the 1 1/8-mile test at Gulfstream Park pits top-tier contender Greatest Honour against rivals on the upswing.

Saturday’s other preps will have an influence on the composition of the Kentucky Derby field, with the UAE Derby (G2) and Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) offering the same 100-40-20-10 points opportunities. Less clear is whether the Japan Road finale, the Fukuryu S. at Nakayama, will result in an accepted invitation.

Unless an exceptional international shipper can buck the trends, or the next Animal Kingdom emerges from Turfway’s synthetic surface, the Florida Derby winner will bring a stronger claim to Churchill Downs.

Here are my points to ponder:

1. Greatest Honour-Known Agenda rematch will reveal their progress.

Known Agenda fought off Greatest Honour in their Nov. 8 maiden battle at Aqueduct, but it turned out to be a poor indicator of the immediate future. Greatest Honour zoomed up the arc of development to win three in a row at Gulfstream Park, showing a new dimension each time. The Shug McGaughey pupil overcame trouble in his maiden score, blew apart the Holy Bull (G3) with a superb move, and won the Fountain of Youth (G2) despite lagging farther back early.

In the meantime, Known Agenda had failed to follow up for Todd Pletcher. In the Remsen (G2) over the same track and trip as his maiden victory, the Curlin colt lost position when racing on the inside in the slop, regained his footing once angled to the outside, and chugged on for a distant third. Known Agenda was expected to rebound back on a fast track in the Sam F. Davis (G3), only to race lackadaisically until finding momentum too late in fifth behind Candy Man Rocket and Nova Rags. With blinkers added on a drop into allowance company, Known Agenda looked more like his old self in an 11-length rout over the Florida Derby track and trip.

Now we’ll see whether Known Agenda has caught back up with Greatest Honour on the developmental curve. Of course, Known Agenda has a greater urgency to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, while Greatest Honour merely has to keep fit and well. Tactics and race shape can also influence the respective merits of their performances, but Greatest Honour might have progressed beyond him for good. After all, even in that maiden, he appeared to travel better but just got outdueled like a neophyte.

2. Collaborate can get Into Mischief right back in the Derby hunt.

Leading sire Into Mischief had disappointing news last weekend, with Life Is Good being knocked off the trail by injury and Mandaloun flopping in the Louisiana Derby (G2). But the Spendthrift patriarch could be right back in the Derby chase with Collaborate and Soup and Sandwich.

Collaborate strikes me as the one poised to handle the class hike. Trained by Saffie Joseph, the $800,000 son of 2010 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) heroine Quiet Temper moved forward second time out to dominate a mile maiden by 12 lengths. Most impressive was how Collaborate was in his own zone on the front end, ignoring the pace gadfly but attuned to Tyler Gaffalione. As soon as he got the cue, Collaborate took off to put the race away in upper stretch, and the margin was for fun. Even allowing for the fact that Bennyfromthebronx, the Tapit half-brother to Charlatan, was regrouping from a rough start, the way Collaborate pulled right away from him was something to behold. Considering that his speedy stablemate Drain the Clock beat all bar Greatest Honour in the Fountain of Youth, it’s easy to envision Collaborate achieving a similar result.

Unbeaten Soup and Sandwich has the advantage of a two-turn allowance victory after his debut romp, but the Mark Casse pupil still races greenly. On his left lead with his head cocked in his Gulfstream maiden, the Live Oak Plantation homebred lugged in down the Tampa stretch and almost tried to jump something (maybe the tire tracks). The gray might be inheriting more than his coat color from broodmare sire Tapit.

3. Will Spielberg advertise the California brigade?

After Hot Rod Charlie shipped in to take the Louisiana Derby, Spielberg hopes to strike another blow for the California three-year-olds. But Bob Baffert’s $1 million son of Union Rags has been difficult to trust, thanks to his established pattern of alternating solid and subpar efforts. Spielberg is coming off one of his better results, a second to unbeaten champion Essential Quality in the Southwest (G3) despite fluffing the start.

On the other hand, his erstwhile stablemate Tarantino gives encouragement. After racing on turf for Baffert, Tarantino switched to Rodolphe Brisset, finished second in his dirt debut in the Holy Bull, and ran a creditable fourth in the Fountain of Youth. Considering that Spielberg has routinely competed in graded company, he stacks up a lot better than Tarantino on this circuit.

4. Prevalence’s form is represented but not implicated.

Two victims of Godolphin’s exciting Prevalence are trying the Florida Derby as longshots. Their fortunes won’t count much toward his classic aspirations.

Quantum Leap, a remote sixth in Prevalence’s tour de force debut, made quantum improvement on the step up to 1 1/8 miles. The lumbering son of Pioneerof the Nile wore down Ghazaaly, who had been an eye-catching third in the same Prevalence maiden.

Southern Passage finished second in Prevalence’s optional claiming allowance, where as a sometime claimer, he was in for the $75,000 tag. Yet few would argue that his three-length loss is a literal pointer. Prevalence needed that race as a bridge from his jaw-dropping debut to next Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G2), especially in light of his minor illness that kept him from the Fountain of Youth.