03/24/2010 11:00PM

Gulfstream roundup

Email

WHO'S HOT

Kent Desormeaux was having a subpar meet and spent most of the winter on the south side of the top-10 list until he posted seven victories during Florida Derby week, highlighted by Unrivaled Belle's popular victory in the Grade 3 Rampart. Desormeaux combined with trainer Bill Mott for four of those seven wins.

John Velazquez, who will not return for the final month of the session, and Jose Lezcano, the defending Gulfstream riding champion, took honorable mention Florida Derby week with five wins apiece. Velazquez won three Thursday, March 18, including two of leading trainer Todd Pletcher's three wins on the card.

Alan Garcia, who had a disappointing winter, wrapped up his local stay on a good note with a pair of riding doubles Saturday and Sunday.

Mott led all trainers with his four wins last week as he continues to battle Nick Zito for second spot in the standings behind Pletcher.

WHO'S NOT

Radiohead probably fell off the Kentucky Derby trail after finishing ninth in the Florida Derby. His outside post and the fact he was hung extremely wide around the clubhouse turn did not help the cause. Neither did the patch on the inside of his left front foot, which could be indicative of a quarter crack issue.

Christian Daae also raced well below expectations in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss. Her inexperience may have come into play against the likes of Devil May Care and Amen Hallelujah. She was also race-ridden and floated wide around the opening turn by Julien Leparoux aboard Amen Hallelujah and fanned wide again into the stretch by Devil May Care.

FLORIDA DERBY WRAP-UP

Ice Box's last-to-first win in the Florida Derby confirmed several notions, especially that pace makes the race. It also proved trip players who do their homework will, from time to time, be rewarded.

Obviously, the pace of the Florida Derby was much faster and more conducive to Ice Box's running style than that of the Fountain of Youth four weeks earlier. Three of the first four finishers in the Florida Derby rallied from the rear of the pack; only Rule was still hanging around at the end after being part of the early running, a performance that reflects well on his talents.

As for the controversy surrounding the decision to move the race back a week, six weeks in advance of the Kentucky Derby, management was somewhat redeemed by the $20 million-plus overall handle on Saturday's 12-race card. But they will still need Ice Box and his friends coming out of the Florida Derby to run well in the Kentucky Derby to stem the notion that leaving a good thing alone would have been prudent.

TRACK TRENDS

Even though the Florida Derby was won by a horse more than a dozen lengths off the lead down the backstretch, speed and stalkers as usual dominated the week over the main track. Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens summed up the seemingly bias-beating result in the Florida Derby as follows:

"I've seen it time and time again over the years in big races at places like this, where everyone thinks you need to be on or near the lead. They all go too fast, and something from far back wins. It always seems to happen that way."

Wednesday, March 17: More of a mixed bag than usual over the main track with two front-running winners, one stalker, and two closers. It was much the same over the turf course, with the rail set out at 60 feet for the first of four straight programs.

Thursday, March 18: A big day for speed on the main track, with four of the six dirt races won by horses on or disputing the pace and the other two won by stalkers. No bias on the grass.

Friday, March 19: Speed and stalkers swept the six dirt races, with Kiddari the only one of the main-track winners more than two lengths off the lead (just barely) at the quarter pole. The four turf races were split evenly, two won on the front end and two from off the pace.

Saturday, March 20: Florida Derby day started over what was like a total speed-biased main track, with the first two dirt races won on the lead, but things tempered a bit as the afternoon continued. Fellow longshots Wingedlie and Devil May Care joined Ice Box in the winner's circle after rallying from off the pace. There was seemingly no discernible trend on the grass.

Sunday, March 21: There was an abbreviated eight-race program because of the equine herpesvirus scare at Calder and a sudden switch on the turf with both the inner (rail at zero feet) and outer (72 feet) courses employed to facilitate the all-turf pick four that closed the week. Three main-track races were left after scratch time, all won by pace-stalkers. The grass favored a similar type of running style no matter the location of the rail, with March to Victory the only horse not first or second at the head of the stretch to get home on top in five inner-course events.

LOCAL 3-YEAR-OLD RANKINGS

1. Eskendereya: His performance in the Fountain of Youth was flattered by the result of the Florida Derby.

2. Rule: He ran huge in defeat but must still prove he can rate and carry his speed to have a chance in the big dance.

3. Odysseus: You had to like the courage he displayed winning the Tampa Derby, and now he gets a free square to gain experience in his upcoming Derby prep.

4. Ice Box: He obviously benefited from the pace scenario in the Florida Derby but could get a similar setup on Derby day.

5. Super Saver: He was game in defeat in his 3-year-old debut at Tampa but will have to harness some of that speed to have success on the Derby trail.

6. Pleasant Prince: There was not much separating him from Ice Box in their two previous meetings, although he has arguably had the better trips in both encounters.

7. Jackson Bend: He never runs a poor one, but he needs another big effort in the Wood to stay in the Derby picture.

8. Fly Down: He is a little less seasoned than some of the others but does have the talent. He could use an Ice Box-like pace scenario in an all-or-nothing try for a Derby slot Saturday at the Fair Grounds.

9. Discreetly Mine: He needs to prove he can duplicate his Risen Star performance if facing additional pace pressure in the Louisiana Derby.

10. Tiz the One: He is not lacking for talent, but we saw what happened to similarly promising but lightly raced colts such as Game On Dude and Miner's Reserve in the Florida Derby.

WORKOUT REPORT

A few horses who've been working recently at Gulfstream and are set to race Saturday.

Loita (6th race): Hasn't shown much in three previous starts, but her five-furlong work March 15 was an improvement without the blinkers. I caught her half-mile work in 48.35 seconds after an opening quarter in 23.39 without pressure, and she galloped out in 1:01.66 to the mile pole. Perhaps the equipment change and switch to grass will provide a bit of a wake-up call.

Acting Happy (9th race): With exercise rider Michelle Nevin aboard, she breezed in company along with Grade 1-winning stablemate Court Vision on March 20. They went an easy five-eighths as a team in 1:15.06. Should set her up for another good performance today.

Never On Sunday (10th race): The likely favorite in the Pan Am off his U.S. debut, he breezed a mile in company Sunday with stablemate Queen Martha, a minor two-time winner in Europe. Never On Sunday broke off a couple of lengths behind his partner and finished on even terms while under a bit of late pressure.

Five Fifty Five (11th race): He has turned in several fast works since changing barns this winter. He went a half in 46.58 under pressure when second-best to stablemate Patriotic Viva out of the gate Feb. 21. Five Fifty Five had also partnered up but proved no match for Christine Daae breezing five furlongs from the pole one week earlier.

HORSES TO WATCH

E.H. Indy

Trainer: Angel Penna Jr.

Last race: March 20, 12th

Finish: 5th by 3 3/4

This well-bred 3-year-old is by A.P. Indy out of multiple turf stakes winner Auntie Mame, and displayed an apparent fondness for the grass in his debut despite failing to overcome a slow start and wide trip before finishing with interest.

Cherokee Queen

Trainer: Graham Motion

Last race: March 20, 6th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

She was steadied sharply in traffic near the quarter pole, allowing eventual winner Scolara to get a big jump on her. But she finished strongly and cut into that advantage once she swung wide and found clearance at the head of the stretch in a contentious third-level allowance race on the grass.

Bears Finish Line

Trainer: Michael De Paulo

Last race: March 20, 5th

Finish: 5th by 13

Son of Tapit trained extremely well leading up to his career debut, which came against a tough bunch of maiden special weight rivals out of the one-mile chute. He raced within striking distance before fading late after losing considerable ground into the stretch. He should only improve off this performance.