03/28/2013 12:34PM

Weekend Warrior for March 30: Picks for Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Appleton

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Tom Keyser
Orb may get the same favorable pace setup that helped him win the Fountain of Youth.

As if Saturday wasn’t big enough with Dubai World Cup Day, it is also a huge day at both Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds. The Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby tops a card at Gulfstream that also includes five other graded stakes, most notably the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks. And the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby is the feature on a Fair Grounds program that also includes three other Grade 2 events, the richest of those being the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks.

Florida Derby

As one who liked Orb when he won the Fountain of Youth in his last start, I will be the first to admit he got a great setup in that race. The Fountain of Youth pace was strong, which worked in favor of Orb’s closing style. It also helped that Violence, who was a narrowly beaten second in the Fountain of Youth as the odds-on favorite and sustained a career-ending injury in that race, was closer to that strong early pace than he perhaps had to be. But while all of that is true, it should not diminish the fact that Orb also ran well, rallying four wide on a Gulfstream main track that doesn’t often support that sort of move. The Fountain of Youth was Orb’s third straight victory, and second straight since getting Lasix, and it is noteworthy he has taken significant steps forward in terms of Beyer Figures with each of his wins.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders with odds and video]

The thing is, Orb is in line to receive another favorable setup Saturday. And that, combined with the likelihood he will still be a bigger price than Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby, is why I’m taking Orb to win right back.

Merit Man brings serious sprint speed to this Florida Derby, although the removal of blinkers should help him relax some and suggests he won’t be running off early. Shanghai Bobby, who is a big question mark at this nine-furlong distance, also has serious speed. It’s hard envisioning these two not conspiring for a lively pace and setting the table for Orb, who won at this distance two starts back when he overcame an unfavorable pace scenario.

As for Itsmyluckyday, he is absolutely the one to beat. He was monstrous winning the Gulfstream Park Derby and then handing Shanghai Bobby his first defeat in the Holy Bull, and he is in position for a great trip Saturday, getting first run on Orb. But even though the two-month layoff Itsmyluckyday (and Shanghai Bobby) brings into this race was planned, I’m not crazy about depending on a horse who will have to go a longer distance than he ever has before off such a layoff.

Louisiana Derby

Morning-line favorite Revolutionary has a lot of talent, but he’s also a bit of a head case. Much of the considerable trouble he overcame winning the Withers last time out was of his own making. Revolutionary hasn’t been great leaving the gate, sometimes he only runs in spots, and when he was splitting the questionable opposition he faced in the Withers, he was running with his head up, as though he disliked being in traffic. These are not characteristics I’m willing to accept in a favorite, especially one in a big field like this.

As for the group of five in here coming out of the Risen Star, I’m leaning against them. The Risen Star was won by an implausible 135-1 shot, and only 3 1/2 lengths separated the first and eighth finishers. I know that Oxbow came out of a fourth in the Risen Star to be a narrowly beaten second in the Rebel, but I need to see more evidence that the Risen Star wasn’t the mediocre race it appears to be.

Departing is an interesting horse. He cruised in his first three starts and I have great respect for his connections. But I wonder about that 97 Beyer Figure that Departing got for winning at Sam Houston most recently because I find it suspicious that the three who finished closest to Departing in that race also received career-best Beyers.

I’m going with Titletown Five. Titletown Five showed a lot of potential last year in nothing but hot maiden races, including the one he won by the length of the stretch in his first start with Lasix at Churchill Downs last fall. Titletown Five was also game as the beaten favorite in his recent return from four-month break after disputing a strong early pace. Not only is Titletown Five the clear speed of this field, he is also finally getting to do what he was bred for, which is go long. Titletown Five is by Tiznow, out of D’Wildcat Speed, who was 9 for 11 routing. Now, most of D’Wildcat Speed’s route wins were in Puerto Rico, but she did win the 2005 Rampart at Gulfstream by six lengths, earning a 106 Beyer.

In the other big stakes at Fair Grounds, I like Unlimited Budget right back in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Bourbon Courage in the New Orleans, and Doubles Partner in the Mervin Muniz.

Appleton Stakes

No fewer than seven of the 12 entered in this race at Gulfstream Park like to operate on or right with the early pace. Under the circumstances, I want a closer, and I like Omayad. Omayad was a multiple Group 1 winner in his native Chile, and was well regarded when he came to New York on Belmont Stakes Day last year for the Manhattan Handicap off a sharp second in his United States debut at Betfair Hollywood. But something had to have gone wrong in the Manhattan as this will be Omayad’s first start since. Layoffs have never bothered Omayad in the past, though, and his relatively unknown trainer, Oussama Aboughazale, shouldn’t be a concern, either. Aboughazale, who also owns and bred Omayad, was a veteran horseman in various capacities in Chile, and he won with a 29-1 shot in his first start as a trainer here in the United States.

In two of the other stakes at Gulfstream, I like Dreaming of Julia to turn the tables on Live Lively in the Gulfstream Oaks, and Take Charge Indy to win the Skip Away on the front end, which is where he should be.