Intrigue abounds at entry box for Grade 1 Florida Derby

By ITCH

It’s no surprise that a division leader sits atop the qualifying order for this year’s running of the prestigious Grade 1, $1.5 million Florida Derby, one of the seven official Derby Lock Prep races.

It is a surprise, though, which division she leads. That’s right, she.

Tenpoint has the top qualiifier in last year’s juvenile filly champion, APATHETIC GURU. Can a filly really be apathetic and still win eight of its first nine starts? She can be named that way, anyhow. This impeccable scratch-bred 3yo bay daughter of Distorted Humor (Seattle Slew X Storm Cat) won seven of her eight races in 2019, including a triumph in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Bowl Juvenile Filly. She also won two Grade 2 races along with a Grade 3 for a stakes earnings nearly twice her nearest divisional pursuer. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect season for a 2yo filly. Congratulations again go to Tenpoint for this EOY winner. For her next trick, she will attempt to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby against the boys. Can she do it? Our 2019 2yo filly dirt route champion has continued her winning ways since her triumph in the Breeders’ Bowl. She followed up her division-clinching triumph with her first triple-digit speed figure in winning a rezzy-restricted stake at All Stars Racing. (I have heard from ASR members in chat that their residency races have grown to a level of difficulty comparable to those at Empire State Racing. That is, they are tough! There is evidence of the rabid competition in that 16 other fillies were sent to oppose the divisional champion in a rez race.) Apathetic Guru has compiled a four-race winning streak against some huge, highly talented fields. This is not like when some minor trainer, such as your humble BTB reporter, wins a couple in a row by lining up tomato cans for a bum. Nope. This winning streak is legit! There has been a lot of discussion of the Florida Derby in chat, and nobody has been talking about this filly. It may be wishful thinking to go to sleep on this gal. It is true that she faces significant challenges here. This will be her first race going a mile and an eighth, and her first race against colts. She caught no break at the draw, and will launch from post No. 13 as the second choice at 6-1.

Amir1605 is right where he intended to be all along, near the top of the qualifying order of a major Bluegrass Derby prep with DERBY THEORY. This talented colt’s name makes the breeder’s intentions all so obvious, and didn’t Mr. T’s pal used to say? He loved it when a plan came together. Amir’s plan has come together so far with Derby Theory, that is, until that Christmas hangover. Derby Theory was an impressive second two-back in the Grade 1 Merry Christmas run on Dec. 21 in Vermont. Amir’s colt charged hard in that Grade 1 debut to be second, beaten less than a length at the wire. In that Merry Christmas race, Derby Theory dropped well back early, 10th down the backstretch and as many as nine lengths behind. When he started his move, he immediately passed a bunch of them and soon was the apparent threat to the leaders. He ran on like a winner, but the only problem was a big, gray horse closing on his inside. They drew amidships with about 200 yards to go, and Stockswami’s ARROGATE’S MALIBU proved best. That one is well qualified for the Derby, having hit the board in four straight Grade 1 races. He’s No. 2 in his division, so Amir may take solace in that his horse lost to no slouch in the Merry Christmas. It’s going to take a lot more consoling and more luck on Saturday to get over an ugly run last out when a dismal eighth in the Grade 1 Dreams of Zambia, going 9.5 furlongs. Normally, there are not Grade 1 preps going that far so early in the season, but the scales have been tilted this year by a proliferation of player-bought races. More power to them! I say. If you want to put your money where your horse runs, I say, have at it and good luck. Buying races guarantees you nothing, I promise that much. Derby Theory will break widest of all from post No. 14 and is 9-1.

Given has been doing some wheeling and dealing in his desperate attempt to win the Bluegrass Derby. Originally, he had three horses entered to run in the Florida Derby. With 35 3yos left to run in the remaining six Lock Preps and two player-bought Grade 1 races, Given has some chips to move around. He removed two of his Florida entrants and sent them to the Sand Castle instead, where he will train half the field. That’s right, folks, Given is running seven horses in one Lock Prep. His one chip that he is going to leave in the Florida Derby is BLAME THE CADET. While I am sure my friend Robby has gotten Dan into trouble a time or two, he is merely helping his buddy along the way of this particular mission: to win the Bluegrass Derby. As the name would indicate, it is true that this 3yo bay son of Blame comes from the Cadet stables. He was part of a swap to boost Given on his Bluegrass Derby dream. “Dan was on a mission to get to the Derby and all he wanted was dirt colts, so I traded him my dirt colts for his turf monsters and fillies,” Cadet said. He has given Dan a legitimate chance with Blame the Cadet, who has been knocking oh-so-close in his last two, both Grade 1 attempts. First, Blame the Cadet appeared to be home free in the Grade 1 Movieland Futurity. Ahead by four lengths at one point near the head of the stretch, Blame the Cadet just could not get there in time and was run down late by Nextbonus Bill’s JOEY DA K, who appears safely in the Derby field at No. 6 in the division. Meanwhile, Blame the Cadet sits tantalizingly close at No. 24. With a current total of 88 stakes points, it seems like Given might make the Derby with this colt with either a first- or second-place run here. A win obviously locks him into the Derby, and a second-place run may do the trick as well. He would earn 64 points if second, giving him a total of 152. That would vault him to No. 9, for the time being. This writer does not have a feel for the Derby field yet this year with all these new purchased races. Normally, winning any Grade 1, and not just a Lock Prep, would get your colt to the first Saturday in May in Simulated Louisville. Will that still be the case with several Grade 1 races being purchased? There is some added intrigue to the Derby Trail this year, what with Given’s mission and the Sim’s response to it. “I think I should win a few Locks, but we shall see,” Given said. “I have 35 3yos entered in Derby Locks/G1s in the next three weeks. I’m just annoyed that it’s late March and I don’t have one legit 3yo with the points to currently get in the Derby, and Ryan and Robby, who bred many, many fewer than me both have a monster for the Derby.” Given did share one piece of important information: He will send Blame the Cadet to the front in the Florida Derby. “I was NOT pleased with the jockey’s performance is the last race for him in Vermont,” Given said. “It made no sense. Why would he take him back? His best weapon is his speed.” Later in chat, Given said he was having second thoughts about sending the horse. Whatever the tactic, Blame the Cadet will break from post No. 11 as co-fourth choice at 9-1.

Ever since our chat pal Francua4 linked his fabulous 3yo FIERCELY FROSTED just before his stunning triumph in the Grade 2 Fountain of Ute, we have been typing “GO FROSTY” repeatedly in the chat room. Francua gets a kick out of it, and we know how excited he is to have a 3yo with a shot at the Derby. Last year, he got a whiff of the big time with ZAPP DADDY, who ran second in a listed stake and qualified for the Fountain of Ute before running short on steam. “Last year I kind of did with Zapp Daddy, but he got whooped in the Ute and then again in the Florida Derby,” Francua said. “He wasn’t nearly as good as Frosty has been, though.” Not by a longshot. While Zapp Daddy never threatened in the Fountain of Ute, Fiercely Frosted was dominant. He smashed them by two and a quarter lengths, drawing away at the end at 10-1 under jockey C. Orza. Now, he wheels back at the same track, going the same distance. Fiercely Frosted has won three in a row, exploding in the Fountain of Ute to a new career-high speed figure of 108, an improvement of his previous best by 10 points. His trainer, however, is conservative in his assessment. “I’m 50-50 on him,” Francua4 confessed. “He’s looked good so far, but this is the firs ttime he’s racing back on only four or five weeks reest. Usually, he’s had eight weeks between races. It’s a different type of test for him.” Rival trainers, including both Given and Desert Dog, both pointed to Fiercely Frosted as the most likely contender in the Florida Derby. Francua, meanwhile, has handicapped the race and looks at two other colts as his most serious opposition. “Out of everything in right now, I’d say TREZAR and TARTON SQUIRT are the two I’m most concerned with. If my horse doesn’t break well, then I’m in all types of trouble.” Fiercely Frosted caught a nice draw and will break from post No. 4 as the third choice at 7-1.

TARTON SQUIRT was a hard-charging second last out in the Grade 2 Fountain of Ute, leaving him two and a quarter lengths to make up Fiercely Frosted. The morning-line odddsmaker in Florida is convinced he’s up to the job, making him the favorite at 5-1. Tarton Squirt will break from post No. 6. In the Fountain of Ute, Tarton Squirt was shuffled back to ninth, trailing more than nine lengths at one point, before rallying. He never threatened the winner, who enjoyed a leisurely trip while easily outpacing a rival who would lightly pressure him for the lead. Fiercely Frosted got a very nice trip last time. What if he is not so lucky this time? What if he faces pressure on the front end? Riding instructions in the Florida Derby were a hot topic in the chat room, with several players encouraging Given to send Blame the Cadet to the front. Might an early pace battle help set it up for Tarton Squirt, who was not done any favors by the pace last out? His trainer said he started to figure out in the fall of last year that he might have a good one in Tarton Squirt, a bay gelded son of Mr. Speaker. “He won a listed stakes back in September of last year, and came back in October to come in second in the Grade 3 Cornstalker,” said Naskippy. “In January of this year, he headed out for the Grade 3 Legoland in Louisiana and picked up a win at a mile. Then, in February, he ran in the Grade 2 Fountain of Ute and placed second.” That good run in the Fountain of Ute gives Tarton Squirt a good race at both the distance and over this Florida strip. “This horse can go the distance, and in eight career starts has only been off the board once and that was in the Grade 1 Movieland Futurity in California when he showed up fourth at the wire. HIs top speed rating is 106, and he ran a 105 in the Fountain of Ute. He is a nice 3yo gelding (Mr. Speaker X El Corredor X Lammtarra) and is out of a nice allowance-winning mare who is 19 years old, SQUIRTER CB, who has produced well in the past. Tarton Squirt tends to be a late closer and the leaders up front should be paying attention to their rearview mirrors in the stretch for home. I would like to see a gate draw of 4 through 7 for this horse, but he has won from outside gates in the past. He is in much need of hitting the board here in the Florida Derby.”

Formerly powerful trainer Astin has returned to the Sim and steps back onto the Derby trail with TREZAR. This 3yo bay son of Nyquist, out of a stakes-winning Deep Impact mare named MILERA, remains on the Derby Trail despite not having won a race since August of last year. Trezar has developed a case of seconditis, having taken the place money in three straight starts. He held his form last out when stretched to nine furlongs for his 3yo debut. That respectable performance in the Grade 3 Scam out in California gives Astin a case for optimism about this colt. He’ll have to win the Florida Derby to make the Bluegrass Derby, but he may be sitting on a big race. Trezar seems to have set himself up nicely for a significant improvement in the Florida Derby. His lack of triple-digit speed figures has won him no respect from the morning-line oddsmaker. He goes to post at a generous 13-1, and will break from post No. 12. You never want to get too excited about a horse still eligible for non-winners of three lifetime, but Trezar remains lightly raced with only six starts under his belt. It just feels like his second start of 2020 could be a big step forward. What better stage than the Florida Derby? Let’s see. There is one better stage in the first Saturday in May, but first things first. He’ll have to go a lot faster and overcome a wide post to win and get in the Bluegrass Derby.

Sophomore sire City of Light will be looking for his first graded winner in the Sim with BANZAI RIPSHOOTER, a 3yo bay who began his career a perfect four-for-four. Deyoto trains this spectacular colt and will represent MIDAS. He runs nothing like the stakes-winning Distored Humor hemare WARRINGER on whom he was based. That one was a Silky Sullivan type, coming from far off the pace. He was not a bad horse, though inconsistent as many of those deep closers can be. He had only one shot in the breeder’s shed, and Deyoto picked a winner with this unproven sophomore sire, City of Light. There is something Deyoto likes about this sire to use him for the only chance of a fairly talented hemare. Warringer could lay down some big speed figures and I am sure Deyoto was hoping for the same kind of speed out of this colt. He found it right away, but also found that Banzai Ripshooter likes to lay a lot closer to the pace than Warringer ever did. While the hemare dawdled from the gate, Banzai Ripshooter has broken alertly in all six of his starts. As stated, he was undefeated after four races, culminating in a dominating win in his first listed. Then, Banzai Ripshooter went on to become of of two graded-placed horses in the Sim by City of Light. On Saturday, he seeks to become his sire’s first Grade 1 winner. Banzai Ripshooter will break down on the inside from post No. 2 at 12-1.

Our friends from South America are represented in the Florida Derby with CARMIN DE PEUMO. Trainer ABARCA represents Club Hipico De Santiago. They know their caballos in Chile, and now we know a little bit about the name of this horse after “hitting the Google button.” Peumo is a city in Chile, which was named for a tree called a Peumo. Apparently, that’s where Carmin set her roots. Our friends from Chile hope to be rooting in the owner’s box in Simulated Louisville on the first Saturday in May. To get there, they will need a victory from Carmin De Peumo. This light gray son of Graydar earned a nice 101 speed figure last out in a graded going Saturday’s distance. That kind of number in a stakes race going the right distance catches a handicapper’s eye. He gives his mare a chance to finish her career with a flourish. CRYFLY’S SEATTLE, by Street Cry, is an 18yo now and almost retired. She went unused for many of her potential breeding years, from 2008 to 2016. Since coming back to use, Cryfly’s Seattle has proven useful. She has given two stake winners, including Carmin De Peumo. Can this colt add signficantly to mama’s resume in the Florida Derby? He catches a nice post in No. 3 and has gotten respect from the morning-line oddsmaker at 10-1. There has been talk of a hot pace battle, which may not be comfortable for Carmin De Peumo. He’s had things his own way on the front end until now, and is unlikely to get such a friendly pace scenario on Saturday. However, this colt has shown the ability to run fast going nine furlongs, so he merits respect.

There are only five graded winners in the Florida Derby field. The fifth and final one is NOLA BRASS BAND, who sounds like he might be a Louisiana bred, but he’s not. No, this 3yo bay son of Daiwa Major was bred in Japan, out of a Speightstown mare named REBIRTH BRASS BAND. In this writer’s many travels, he did once happen to run across the band for which that mare is named. I was on a trip with a band out of Wheeling, W.Va., and we were in a place in New Orleans, waiting to watch a show by the Rebirth Brass Band. It was showtime, 10 p.m., and they were nowhere in sight. There was some murmuring in the crowd as people wondered if there was going to be a show. And if there was going to be a show, when would that show be? The band was not even there yet. Just as those conversations began, a white van rolled up in front of the joint. The door opened. Out jumped the Rebirth Brass Band, instruments in hand. They walked right in and hit it. It was the coolest beginning to any show I ever had witnessed. Of course, the show was fantastic and I wondered in amazement at the stamina of the drummer. He walked around with his stuff hanging from his shoulders, and he never stopped dancing or playing. Can the Simulated horse Nola Brass Band bring that kind of energy to the track on Saturday? His recent form does not look too bad, but both of his two good races of late were at sprint distances. This horse fell on hard times when he was first stretched out to two turns as a 2yo. He was a shipwrecked 14th in the Grade 1 Sparkling Wine four back going a flat mile. If he could not handle that kind of distance, how is he going to handle a mile and an eighth? He’s No. 11 in the sprint division, and his fans are going to point to his big closing move to be second last out in a Grade 2, but the Florida Derby is a whole different ballgame. We’ll see if he’s up to the tall task he faces on Saturday. Maybe he’s been training over that long stretch run at the Fairgrounds, which reminds me of another story ….

MR. JITTERS originally was entered to run in the Grade 1 Sand Castle Lock Prep but was bumped from that race when Given decided to try and dominate one Lock Prep race with his 3yo contingent. Given entered a grand total of seven horses in the Sand Castle race, bumping several runners, including Stoners’ brilliantly fast 3yo bay son of Malibu Moon. Given’s move to dominate the Sand Castle Derby field had some repercussions, including a negative one for any other trainer in the Florida Derby who had designs on controlling the pace. Fuggedaboutit. The arrival of Mr. Jitters is bad news for horses like Carmin De Peumo, Banzai Ripshooter, Fiercely Frosted, Blame the Cadet and Apathetic Guru. All of these contenders like to race on or near the lead. The fastest of a fast-from-the-gate bunch may be Mr. Jitters. While trainers of deep closers like Tarton Squirt or Trezar are glad to see another speed horse hit town, the others watch their chances compromised. Horses that have been racing on the lead had better find a new gear against Mr. Jitters. This horse is a committed, brilliantly fast speedball. He has been in front at the head of the stretch by four lengths in his last race, and more than six lengths in the score before that! Add to that the fact that the horse is stretching out an eighth of a mile, and we have a serious speedball here in Mr. Jitters. He will break from post No. 7 and is 9-1. Mr. Jitters fits two handicapping angles that have been proven to work in this reporter’s years of previewing big races for the Black Type Bugler. First, beware of the horse going off at low odds after qualifying far down the order. Mr. Jitters qualified only 10th in here, yet is going to post at the relatively short price of 9-1. Also, the horse is lightly raced, with only five starts under his belt. We’ve all seen in happen that when we handicap a race loaded with speed, we look for closers, and instead, the winner is the speed of the speed. Might that be the case in the Florida Derby? The fact that Mr. Jitters got bumped in Dubai, but qualifies in front of four horses here is another piece of evidence that the Florida Derby is not so strong this year. Getting bumped to this spot might prove a real blessing in disguise to Stoners.

SEIZE THE SKY is another one who arrived late in the entry box. He, too, was bumped from the Sand Castle. This horse has an appropriate name given the real-life occupation of his trainer. Desert Dog is an airline pilot, a captain who flies jetliners to exotic places all over the globe. When we all get past this awful Coronavirus, Desert Dog will be seizing the sky once again. For now, like the rest of us, he’s grounded and hoping to get his kicks in front of his computer. Can he pull a big upset in the Florida Derby at 14-1? “I think he would need to make a pretty good jump in performance to have a shot realistically,” said the Captain. “I think he will like the extra distance though, so he might make some noise. There are some proven good horses in the race though. He’s sharp and ready to go, we’ll see what happens.” Ironically, it was a chat-room tip that has added to the degree of difficulty for Given, who will run Blame the Cadet in the Florida Derby. “I have to thank Dan for reminding me to take a shot in stakes to even get into the race,” said Desert Dog. A scratch-bred 3yo bay gelding by Carpe Diem (Pleasant Colony X Conquistador Cielo), Seize the Sky had managed only a single third-place finish in two allowance runs, so it’s easy to see why Desert Dog was not thinking stakes for this colt. However, he followed Given’s advice, and entered Seize the Sky in an Arkansas listed, with eight runners going a mile and a sixteenth. At 6-1, Seize the Sky responded, winning his stakes debut after failing to show much in his first two tries against winners. Can he take another big step forward in the Florida Derby? We shall see on Saturday afternoon.

The Rocky horse also has a surprising connection to the main player in this year’s 3yo contests. None other than Given himself bred the grand dam of RED HOLIDAY. Her name was AZHI DAHAKI. She was the dam of RED MOUNTAINS, a 13yo daughter of Harlan’s Holiday who has done good work for Rocky. Before giving him Red Holiday, she produced a graded-placed runner and a Grade 3 winner. Can she get a Grade 1 winner on Saturday with Red Holiday? I don’t know, Rocky. Looks like a dark horse to me. Four out of Red Holiday’s last five races have been atrocious, including an ugly 11th-place clunker last out in the Fountain of Ute. That crushing loss only leaves him with 16 lengths to make up on Fiercely Frosted. During the same chat room conversation in which Given revealed his intentions regarding riding instructions, Rocky also revealed that he would be letting the rider make the call on Red Holiday. “I’m letting my jock decide how to run,” Rocky said. “I am hoping we get an outside post. He does better mid-track and wider.” Looks like jockey C. Word is going to have to take back and take to the right before he goes left around the first turn. Red Holiday drew the exact opposite of what Rocky wanted. Instead of drawing on the far outside, he has drawn on the far inside. Red Holiday will break from post No. 1 at 18-1. Only when it’s a trainer like Rocky can a horse come into a race like this with spotty form like his and make you wonder. The greater likelihood is that he clunks again. But you know? It’s Rocky. Anything can happen. Just ask Apollo Creed.

You know your horse may rate the look of an extreme outsider when its price is 150 percent as long as the Rocky horse. While Red Holiday displays regrettable form, he goes to the post at only 18-1. Meanwhile, ASSUMED CONTROL is 27-1. How bad must this horse be? If you could just forget about the speed figures, he’s not really all that awful. This scratch-bred 3yo light gray son of Arrogate (El Prado X Cape Cross) has won 5 of 11 career starts and two in a row. However, the fact that he’s not yet topped $100,000 in career earnings gives a clue as to his lack of class. The $1.5 million on offer for the Grade 1 Florida Derby is a far larger pot than he’s ever chased. Assumed Control is taking the jump all the way from conditioned allowances to a Grade 1. He is also taking a jump in distance to nine furlongs, which proved problematic in his only attempt. The only time he’s tried to go a mile and an eighth, he could not get the distance, and gave up five lengths in the stretch while third. There’s not a whole lot of optimistic stuff you can concoct for this horse in this spot. We still haven’t talked about his woeful speed ratings, which have yet to crack so much as 90. Maybe we better talk some Sim history as related to his trainer, Jmadm. Anybody remember WHOOPS APOCALYPSE? As Paul Harvey used to say, “and now you know …. the rest of the story.” Jmadm was the trainer of that horse made famous at Del Penn National.

The fact that REMEMBER ME NOW has qualified below both Red Holiday and Assumed Control cannot be good for his chances. Don’t tell that to the morning-line oddsmaker in Florida, who hangs a far lower number on Remember Me Now than he does on Assumed Control. This 3yo light gray son of Tiznow is 12-1, and is out of a Grade 1-winning Street Cry mare named HOLY BULB, who was great on the track but is even better in the breeding shed. The Pye Man himself has a treasure here in this 9yo mare, who has given a Grade 1 winner, a Grade 3 winner, two graded-placed winners, and one stakes winner in only five years of production. She has a long way to go and a lot of foals to drop before she is done. Holy Bulb was classy on the track, winning an Equinics race as a 2yo before flopping in the 2014 running of the Bluegrass Oaks. She earned more than $800,000 despite only finishing in the exacta six times in her career. Valuable as she was as a runner, she has been a lottery winner-type mare in the shed. Tyedye looks to improve on her already impressive broodmare record, as Remember Me Now can become her second Grade 1 winner with a victory in the Florida Derby. The horse was badly beaten in both of his graded tries so far, but has rounded back to form with two improving second-place runs in his last two.

GOOD LUCK EVERYBODY!!!!!!

9 thoughts on “Intrigue abounds at entry box for Grade 1 Florida Derby

  • March 26, 2020 at 8:21 pm
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    Itch is absolutely the best, we bow down to you!

    Thanks man, articles like this enhance the game so much it’s impossible to overstate it.

  • March 26, 2020 at 9:36 pm
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    I never miss reading Itch previews even if I don’t have a dog in the fight. His stuff is too informative and entertaining to miss. This is yet another gem. Congrats, Tim! And thanks for the shout out! 😉

  • March 26, 2020 at 9:54 pm
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    OMG I listened to this with the “Peter from UK” voice –

    When he says “TARTAN SQUIRT” I lose it everytime.

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