03/26/2011 1:15PM

Florida Derby weekend long on quality


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Sunday’s $1 million Florida Derby, which figures to feature a small but select field topped by leading Kentucky Derby contenders Dialed In, Soldat, To Honor and Serve, and Stay Thirsty, will be typical of all the stakes racing scheduled here next weekend.

On Saturday, the Grade 2 Rampart and Gulfstream Oaks also appear to be coming up light on numbers but top-heavy with talent.

The Rampart could very well feature the return of Unrivaled Belle, who has not started since winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 5. She has been working steadily for trainer Bill Mott at Payson Park since mid-February. Unrivaled Belle led throughout to win the 2010 Rampart by 1 3/4 lengths over Champagne Eyes.

If she goes, Unrivaled Belle might still have her hands full with the improving Awesome Maria, who dominated the Grade 3 Sabin here earlier this winter after closing out her 3-year-old campaign finishing second in the Grade 1 Sabin.

Others pointing for the 1 1/8-mile Rampart are Belle Watling, Dubai Dancer, Joanie’s Catch, and Persuading. Both Joanie’s Catch and Persuading worked on Saturday. Joanie’s Catch breezed an easy three furlongs in 36.60 seconds at Calder, while Persuading went five eighths in 1:00.20, the fastest at the distance during the morning at Gulfstream Park.

The Oaks, formerly known as the Bonnie Miss, is expected to pit Grade 1 winner R Heat Lightning against the undefeated It’s Tricky. R Heat Lightning, runner-up in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, exits a sensational seven-length victory in the Grade 2 Davona Dale earlier in the session. It’s Tricky has won her first three career starts by a combined 14 1/2 lengths for Darley Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

It’s Tricky tuned up for her local debut with an easy half-mile breeze in 49.65 seconds at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

The remainder of the compact Oaks lineup could also include Hot Summer, Island School, Kindersley, Salary Drive, and Beso Grande, according to Gulfstream’s racing secretary, Dan Bork.

Sunday’s Florida Derby undercard will offer three graded stakes: the Grade 3 Appleton on the turf, the Grade 3 Skip Away and the Grade 2 Swale.

Little Mike, already a two-time Grade 3 winner at the meet, tops a surprisingly light field lining up for the one-mile Appleton. Bork listed only four other probable starters as of Saturday: Asphalt, Commandeered, Mikoshi, and Successful Mission.

Grade 3 winner Colizeo is among a half-dozen older handicap horses currently pointing for the 1 3/16-mile Skip Away, along with Jackson Bend, Jardim, Alcomo, Odds On, and S.S. Stone.

The Swale could offer a rematch between Flashpoint and Travelin Man, the 1-2 finishers in last month’s Grade 2 Hutcheson, although trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has not totally ruled out the possibility that the undefeated Flashpoint could run in the Florida Derby. Other potential Swale starters are Black N Beauty, Little Drama, and Razmataz.

Tackleberry eyes Charles Town

Tackleberry, among the stars of the local session with victories in the Sunshine Millions Classic and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, worked a half-mile in 49.40 seconds at Calder on Saturday. Owner-trainer Luis Olivares said the $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 16 could be next for Tackleberry.

Another locally based horse eyeing the Charles Town Classic is Yawanna Twist, who finished second as the 4-5 favorite two weeks earlier in Aqueduct’s Kings Point.

“The race will come up tough but just because you’re a good one doesn’t mean you have to like going around all those turns,” Dutrow said.