03/12/2008 11:00PM

Golden Spikes headed to Illinois Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The prospective starting lineup for the $1 million Florida Derby has seemingly grown on a daily basis over the past week. That growth, however, has led the connections of one 3-year-old previously earmarked for the race to seek out a smaller field and theoretically softer spot.

The Illinois Derby just makes more sense than the Florida Derby for Golden Spikes, according to Rob Murphy, managing partner among the horse's owners. Murphy said that was the conclusion after he discussed the situation with trainer Marty Wolfson and some of the other partners in the horse. The Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby will be run at Hawthorne on April 5, one week after the Florida Derby.

"The Florida Derby is not only coming up very tough but with a big field, and that ultimately means the post-position draw also becomes extremely important," said Murphy, a former pitcher for several major league teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. "Right now, the only top horse heading to the Illinois Derby appears to be Blackberry Road."

Golden Spikes is coming off a fifth-place finish behind Cool Coal Man in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. He set a pressured pace along a deep rail before faltering from the effort through the stretch. In his previous start, Golden Spikes extended Cool Coal Man before finishing a game second under second-level allowance conditions.

Despite the loss of Golden Spikes, about a dozen 3-year-olds are expected for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, led by Fountain of Youth runner-up Elysium Fields, the undefeated and untested Big Brown, and the up-and-coming Hey Byrn.

Backseat Rhythm joins Bonnie Miss

The Florida Derby undercard on March 29 did get an unexpected boost when trainer Pat Reynolds confirmed Thursday that Backseat Rhythm would run in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss rather than await the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland the following week.

Backseat Rhythm concluded her 2-year-old campaign finishing second behind juvenile filly champion Indian Blessing in the Grade 1 Frizette and then a troubled third behind the same rival in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. A versatile sort, Backseat Rhythm returned here on Feb. 22 over the turf, where she settled for third when again victimized by an unlucky trip.

"We thought the way she handles grass that going to Keeneland for the Ashland would be a good fit for her," said Reynolds, referring to Keeneland's Polytrack. "But after giving it more consideration we decided to just stay where we are and try her in the Bonnie Miss. If she runs well then we'll go on to the Kentucky Oaks."

Well-matched bunch for Mac Diarmida

With no standouts in the lineup, 14 grass specialists, including two also-eligibles, were entered for Sunday's Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap at 1 3/8 miles. Only two pounds separate co-highweights Stream of Gold and Presious Passion from the low weights in the evenly matched lineup.

French Vintage, who figures to be among the longshots, blew out a half-mile in 48.80 seconds over the main track here Thursday for trainer Joe Pierce Jr.

Catalano continues his strong run

Trainer Wayne Catalano has been wielding a hot hand here. Catalano pulled into a dead heat for second, behind Todd Pletcher, in the trainer standings after sending out a pair of winners on Wednesday.

"We always try to run our horses where we can be competitive," said Catalano, who has won with 18 of his 53 starters for a success rate of nearly 35 percent this winter.

When asked if he thought he could overtake Pletcher to win the training title, Catalano answered with a definitive "no."

"Twenty-five can't beat 125," said Catalano, referring to the number of stalls he has at Gulfstream and the number of horses Pletcher has stabled in the area this winter.