Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Even more Road to the Kentucky Derby...Florida Derby Recap


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Dunkirk’s loss in Saturday’s Florida Derby was indeed everyone else gain.

Pre-race: Florida Derby

Just hours before the start of the Florida Derby, American uber trainer Todd Pletcher bit the bullet and scratched Europe, a horse he had entered in the Florida Derby with the intent of making him a rabbit. The goal was for Europe (who has a fondness for the front of the pack) to pressure Quality Road on the front end where the James Jerkens trainee would be looking to control the early fractions.

As North-America’s top trainer, it appears that Todd Pletcher is held to a different standard then all the rest.

Following his decision to enter Europe in Saturday’s Florida Derby, Todd Pletcher took a lot of flack from horseman around the globe who were disappointed to see the future hall of famer use such an "amateurish" tactic in an attempt to win the Florida Derby pole vault his colt Dunkirk into the Run for the Roses.

Pletcher scratched Europe on Saturday morning leaving lightly raced blue-blood colt Dunkirk to fend for himself.

The Race: Florida Derby

As expected Quality Road took up the races early lead and was hardly challenged on the front end covering the 1 1/8 mile race under Jockey John Velazquez in a time of 1:47.3.

Dunkirk for his part looked flat, sitting seven lengths off the lead for the majority of the race before finally launching a bid at the top of the stretch. As the field turned for home Dunkirk made a sweeping move passing the majority of the field in one fowl swoop to put himself in contention at the top of the stretch. It looked very much like Dunkirk was about to mow down Quality Road and head straight to the Derby as the odd’s on choice. Instead Dunkirk arrived at the front of the pack to find a game Quality Road who out duelled Dunkirk throughout the stretch run.

Quality Road $4.40 beat Dunkirk by almost two lengths and will likely contest west coast operative Pioneerofthenile for favouritism on May 2nd in Kentucky.

Post Race: Florida Derby

Although I’ve already heard rumours of Dunkirk returning for the Derby Trial (Churchill Downs) or the Withers Stakes (Aqueduct) just seven days before the Derby, I firmly believed Todd Pletcher when he said that the Florida Derby would be the only opportunity for his colt to qualify for the Derby’s twenty horse field. It is obvious that Mr. Pletcher and the ownership group behind Dunkirk have been incredibly patient with their 3.7 million dollar auction buy. The colt, Dunkirk never raced at the age of two and has only made the starting gate three time thus far in his three-year old campaign. It would defy two years of patience and hard-work for Pletcher to suddenly decide that his colt is competent enough to race in three graded stakes races in just thirty-five days.

Dunkirk may in fact belong in the Derby’s twenty horse field but it looks increasingly like this year marquee will be without it’s main attraction.

Zoltan Black

Complete Irony

Florida Derby winning rider John Velazquez, top rider for Team Pletcher will head to the Kentucky Derby under Quality Road a James Jerkins trainee. It’s kind of ironic that Team Pletcher’s Derby hopes were dashed by the teams top jock John Velazquez riding Quality Road for the James Jerkens outfit.

It is even more ironic that Johnny V will enter the starting gate aboard Quality Road for the Kentucky Derby with a chance of winning a race that has eluded trainer Todd Pletcher thus far in what has otherwise been a stellar career as one of Americas leading horsemen.

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