03/21/2010 11:00PM

First Dude can spring surprise

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NEW YORK - It's the biggest day of the Gulfstream Park meeting on Saturday, with that track's signature race, the Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby, the obvious headliner on a stakes-packed card. The Florida Derby has produced two of the last four Kentucky Derby winners - Big Brown in 2008 and Barbaro in 2006 - but that was when it was run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. This year, the Florida Derby precedes the Kentucky Derby by six weeks. The other stakes on Gulfstream's card Saturday are the Grade 2, $200,000 Bonnie Miss, the Grade 2, $150,000 Swale, the Grade 3, $150,000 Rampart, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Appleton.

Elsewhere, the Grade 2, $250,000 San Luis Rey Handicap is the feature at Santa Anita, with the Grade 3, $100,000 Cicada Stakes, which was rescheduled from a rainout last Saturday, the main event at Aqueduct.

Florida Derby

As the only North American stakes winner in this field and a winner of four straight, Rule is a deserving favorite. Rule received a bit of a boost when the horse he whipped by three lengths in the Sam Davis Stakes in his only start this year, Schoolyard Dreams, came back to miss in a photo I still can't believe he lost in last Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby. Certainly, Rule could make this his fifth straight front-running victory. But I think Rule is going to face higher quality pace pressure than he has at any time during his win streak, and that, combined with a lack of betting value, emboldens me to take a shot against him.

Radiohead could be one of those applying quality early pressure on Rule. He was a Group 2 winner last year in England who showed early foot winning his only start this year in his first start on dirt. But as promising as Radiohead might be, if he wins, it will be without me. Radiohead drew the outside in post 11 for this, which is an extreme disadvantage given the short run to the first turn in nine-furlong races at Gulfstream. Moreover, there is no guarantee that going two turns will be Radiohead's best game. None of his six races last year in England was longer than six furlongs, and his impressive win this year came in a one-turn mile.

First Dude is worth siding with here for an upset. First Dude has never been worse than second in four starts, and his narrow miss at this distance over this track last time out was a strong effort. First Dude contested fast early fractions in that race with a 3-5 shot, opened a clear lead in upper stretch, and was only nipped by an opponent who capitalized on that hot and contested early pace. In the meantime, the 3-5 shot First Dude dueled into defeat wound up a soundly beaten fourth. First Dude is clearly capable of bringing this race early to Rule, but the interesting thing is, if Radiohead elects to do the same, First Dude seems equally capable of being effective from just off the pace.

Cicada Stakes

Even though she wound up a distant fourth as the favorite most recently in the Davona Dale Stakes, Bickersons will be the chalk again here because that's how impressive she was crushing a big field in the Forward Gal Stakes two starts back. And no one would be surprised if Bickersons won this because her last two Beyer Figures, and three of her last four Beyers, are higher than any Beyer anyone else in this race has earned. You know there is a "but" coming, because I try to avoid being a chalk-eating weasel, and here is the but for Bickersons: She clearly bounced last time in the Davona Dale after her huge score in the Forward Gal, and there is no guarantee she is ready to bounce back just yet. Bickersons's last seven starts all came in races longer than this six-furlong sprint, so she might not be entirely accustomed to a six-furlong pace right now.

I like Female Drama. Female Drama's 10th-place finish most recently in the Old Hat looks ugly at first glance, but that race was over for her right at the start as she was knocked around between opponents and checked back to last in the first few strides. And as it turned out, the Old Hat was kind of a weirdly run race in the slop. There wasn't much change of position, and a 30-1 shot went wire to wire. But Female Drama showed good speed when she won both of her starts last fall at Belmont Park in front-running fashion, enough speed to suggest she could lead this field a merry chase.

San Luis Rey Handicap

Who knows? We might be watching the emergence of perhaps America's best hope for the 2010 Breeders' Cup Turf in Bourbon Bay, who ran off and hid in the San Luis Obispo Handicap last time out, just as he did in an allowance race in his first start this year, both at Saturday's 1 1/2-mile distance. But Bourbon Bay got the softest trip he could have asked for in the San Luis Obispo, prompting a very slow pace before drawing away unchallenged. There could be a bit more early speed in play here this time, which means Bourbon Bay's trip might not be as easy.

I'm going with High Court Drama, who hasn't finished worse than second in his three U.S. starts. High Court Drama was particularly sharp last time out when narrowly beaten in the San Marcos by Loup Breton, who I picked, unsuccessfully, when he ran back in the Santa Anita Handicap. Now, Loup Breton was better than the half-length margin between he and High Court Drama in the San Marcos indicates, because Loup Breton had to steady from between horses in the stretch and angle out for racing room. But High Court Drama was drawing away from the rest, and he should enjoy the added distance he gets Saturday.