03/30/2011 1:29PM

Florida Derby: Flashpoint keeping his options open

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Tom Keyser

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Flashpoint is scheduled to run Sunday at Gulfstream Park. The question is will he go postward as the odds-on favorite in the seven-furlong, Grade 2 Swale or as the one to catch later that afternoon in the $1 million Florida Derby?

Flashpoint is one of three 3-year-olds, along with Shackleford and Watch Me Go, whose connections remained undecided Wednesday whether to enter the following afternoon in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. There are six confirmed starters for the Florida Derby: Soldat, Dialed In, To Honor and Serve, Arch Traveler, Stay Thirsty, and Bowman’s Causeway.

Trainer Rick Dutrow said the final decision on Flashpoint is in the hands of his owner, John Fort. The decision is sure to have ramifications on both the Florida Derby and the Swale. If the speedy Flashpoint, who is undefeated and unchallenged in two previous starts, opts for the Florida Derby, it would not only change the pace scenario in that race but likely increase the final field size for the Swale.

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“I told Rick we’d talk later today or tomorrow morning,” Fort said Wednesday. “I want to see how he worked this morning and kind of see which way the wind is blowing before I tip my hand. I haven’t completely decided yet. Do you run in a race worth $150,000 in which you’ll be 1-5 or run in one for $1 million in which you’ll be a longer price?”

Flashpoint appeared to be gearing up for a workout shortly after the renovation break here Wednesday, but after dropping down to the five-furlong pole, he went around at only slightly better than a two-minute clip under exericse rider Michelle Nevin.

“We got exacty what we wanted,” Dutrow said.

Fort, who runs under the nom de course of Peachtree Stable, said the decision whether to run in the Florida Derby is based on many factors and does not hinge solely on whether the race would serve as a suitable Kentucky Derby prep for Flashpoint.

“I don’t live in Florida anymore, but I’d love to win the Florida Derby,” Fort said. “I would consider it one of my great achievements as an owner. Everybody makes the mistake of saying races like the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, or Arkansas Derby are preps for something else. I think of the Florida Derby as a destinaton, not part of a journey to get somewhere else, and if I finally decide to run in the Florida Derby, it will be more because I’d really love to win the Florida Derby than anything else.”

For Flashpoint to get to the Kentucky Derby, he’s likely to need more graded stakes earnings than even a victory in the Swale will provide. Flashpoint currently has $90,000 in graded earnings from his easy victory in the Grade 2 Hutcheson here earlier this winter. A win in the Swale would give him only $180,000, which at this point does not seem like it would be enough to make the final cut for the Derby.

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“I’m tossing all these little things around,” Fort said. “The graded money is an issue in the decision, as is this fact that now I have an Oaks filly in Plum Pretty. That might quench my thirst for going to Louisville a bit, since I feel pretty confident she’ll be there.”

Trainer Dale Romans said he is strongly considering starting Shackleford in the Florida Derby.

“We’re still thinking about it, but I’m leaning in that direction,” Romans said. “He’ll be a big longshot but he’s doing good, the race is here, and the purse is $1 million. There’s really a lot of upside, and not a lot of downside to running.”

Kathleen O’Connell said by phone from Tampa Bay Downs, where Watch Me Go is training, that she was about 50-50 on whether to run the Tampa Bay Derby winner in the Florida Derby.

“We have several alternatives, but time-wise the Illinois Derby would be the best option, if we don’t run here,” O’Connell said.