05/12/2006 12:00AM

Derby result boosts state's profile


MIAMI - Barbaro's emphatic victory in the Kentucky Derby along with the second-place finish by Bluegrass Cat put smiles on the faces of racetrack executives throughout the state of Florida last weekend.

Both Barbaro and Bluegrass Cat wintered at the Palm Meadows training facility in Boynton Beach. Barbaro began his 3-year-old campaign by winning Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby before switching to the dirt to capture the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes and Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Bluegrass Cat made his first two starts this winter at Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes and finished second behind Deputy Glitters, another Kentucky Derby starter, in the track's marquee event, the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.

Nobody was happier to see Barbaro win the Kentucky Derby than Gulfstream's president and general manager, Scott Savin, who took the brunt of the criticism the past two winters after the track moved the $1 million Florida Derby from its traditional spot in mid-March to the first Saturday in April. It is the only major Kentucky Derby prep to be run five weeks before the main event.

"I guess the five-week myth has been dispelled," Savin said. "Nothing better could have possibly happened for Gulfstream Park than for Barbaro to have won the Derby. Believe me, I was probably happier when the race was over than the owner and trainer."

Barbaro became the first horse since Needles 50 years earlier to win the Kentucky Derby off a five-week layoff.

"It seems like if you don't have a winner come out of your preps every year, people start downgrading the race," said Savin. "It's a 'what have you done for me lately' mentality.

"But Monarchos won it coming out of the Florida Derby . . . and now the path is back where it belongs again in Florida."

Savin said Gulfstream does not plan to rest on its laurels and is already looking into ways of tweaking its 3-year-old program for next season.

"We're hoping to make a better progression distance-wise in our 3-year-old schedule," said Savin. "We're planning on rearranging a few things, and it remains to be seen where that will ultimately place the Florida Derby in 2007. The way the calendar falls, if we keep the race on the first Saturday in April it will be only four weeks out from the Derby next year."

Tampa Bay Downs's vice president and general manager, Peter Berube, was equally proud of Bluegrass Cat's performance in the Derby. He became the second horse to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby and go on to become the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby. The first was Menifee in 1999.

"Not only should Bluegrass Cat's effort be a shot in the arm for the Tampa Bay Derby, but it could also help us finally get the Sam Davis graded, which is important these days for any Derby prep," said Berube. "I'm also hoping that Bushfire's victory in the Grade 1 Ashland will help us get graded status again for the Oaks."

At Calder, track officials were pointing to the fact that Barbaro became the third Kentucky Derby winner since Spend a Buck in 1985 to have previously raced at the north Miami oval. The others were Unbridled in 1990 and Lil E. Tee in 1992.

Prospective Saint tops Cool Air field

Prospective Saint has not run since Nov. 6, and finished off the board in her only previous start on grass. But she may still be the favorite if trainer Marty Wolfson keeps her in Sunday's $45,000 Cool Air Stakes. The overnight dash is carded at five furlongs on the turf.

Prospective Saint was among the leaders of the local filly and mare handicap division in 2005. A versatile daughter of Saint Ballado, she won three stakes a year ago before completing her campaign by finishing second behind the speedy Bending Strings in Churchill Downs's Grade 2 Chilukki Stakes.

Among the other leading contenders in the Cool Air are turf-sprint specialists Jewels N Gems and Pandora's Secret, who finished a respective first and second in Gulfstream Park's Bob Slater Stakes on April 8.

Congrats targets Memorial Day Cap

Grade 2 winner and Grade 1-placed Congrats, stabled locally with trainer Kathleen O'Connell, is being pointed for the $100,000 Memorial Day Handicap this month.

Congrats won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in 2005 for trainer Richard Mandella and was second behind stablemate Rock Hard Ten in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Congrats was purchased privately earlier this year by the Cloverleaf Farm, where he will be sent to stand stud once his racing career has ended.

Congrats, seventh in his only two starts this season, has career earnings of just under $1 million.