11/16/2009 12:00AM

Florida Derby moved up a week

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Bob Coglianese
Big Brown won the Florida Derby five weeks before his victory in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park has made an adjustment to its 2010 stakes schedule that includes moving the Grade 1 Florida Derby up a week from March 27 to March 20. The change will now place the Florida Derby six weeks before the Kentucky Derby, as opposed to five weeks out, as it has been the past four years. Two of the last four Kentucky Derby winners - Barbaro in 2006 and Big Brown in 2008 - used a victory in the Florida Derby as a prep to capturing the Run for the Roses five weeks later.

Other significant changes in the stakes schedule include moving the Fountain of Youth up one week from Feb. 27 to Feb. 20 as well as realigning the first Saturday of the meet, Jan. 9, to include five sprint stakes topped by the Spectacular Bid for 3-year-olds and the Mr. Prospector for older horses. The March 20 program will include four other graded stakes in addition to the Florida Derby.

"Fixing the date of the Florida Derby six weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby puts the Florida Derby front and center in the consciousness of the American racing public," said Ken Dunn, who was recently appointed as president and general manager of Gulfstream.

Bernie Hettel, Gulfstream's racing operations manager, said: "The name of the game is handle, and we believe the adjustments are for the good of the fans as well as good for the horsemen and ultimately good for the industry."

Had the Florida Derby remained in its original spot on the stakes schedule, March 27, the race would have been in direct conflict with another traditional Kentucky Derby prep, the Louisiana Derby, which Fair Grounds officials moved to that date for the first time in 2010.

The news was met with mixed reactions from horsemen who figure to be affected most by the decision to move the Florida Derby.

Todd Pletcher, who won the 2007 Florida Derby with Scat Daddy, said: "I actually preferred it and thought the Florida Derby worked very well where it was, five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, although I don't think it would change my position if I had a 3-year-old who'd run well there. Every horse is an individual case, so it's hard to say exactly what plans we might have at this point, although having the Louisiana Derby as an option five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby could certainly impact the situation."

"Personally, I liked the five weeks better," said Kiaran McLaughlin. "To me, six weeks is a long time to train a horse to the Kentucky Derby but a little too close to run a horse back in three weeks in another prep like the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby. I thought Gulfstream had gotten some real momentum up with the five weeks considering what has transpired at the Derby over the last several years."

The 2010 Gulfstream meet opens on Jan. 3.