The 3-year-olds are everywhere, from Santa Anita to Dubai, and the handicappers are all over the place as well. Who's your Kentucky Derby horse? Don't have one yet? Me, either. Trainer Bob Baffert has five of the top seven contenders in the Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch, including filly stars Silverbulletday and Excellent Meeting. Yet, one colt who's not up there, ninth-ranked Straight Man, may turn out to be Baffert's best. Halfway around the world in the desert, Saeed bin Suroor is preparing Worldly Manner, Comeonmom and Aljabr in secrecy. The inexperienced Menifee and Desert Hero have their backers, and there's support for Lemon Drop Kid, Ecton Park and Vicar.
| || Big 'Cap Handicap |
| || Here is ESPN.com's Eddie Mac at the Track's handicap of Sunday's Florida Derby (listed from the rail out with morning-line odds): |
Valid Trefaire (15-1)
Sprinter should be part of solid pace for as far as he goes.
Cat Thief (7-2)
No excuse for not getting by Vicar in Fountain of Youth.
Looks like a Grade B 3-year-old.
Improved quite a bit in last, but this is a big class jump.
Good workouts, but won't get repeat of easy setup in Fountain.
Casanova Star (30-1)
Up the track in both tries in graded stakes.
Should be right there with repeat of impressive '99 debut.
Grits'n Hard Toast (8-1)
Grinder needs pace, breaks to get there in time; maybe.
First American (30-1)
Has only a maiden win in six tries; no chance.
Aly's Alley (20-1)
Awful trip in last; post shouldn't hurt deep closer.
2. Grits'n Hard Toast
Fan clubs form immediately for any Triple Crown hopeful who puts in a big run in California, Florida or anywhere in between. But there are seven weeks to go until America's Race. And the list remains long of horses who are most likely to wear the blanket of roses on May 1 at Churchill Downs. Five stakes races this weekend should clear up the picture a bit. On Saturday, there is the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, which features current Derby favorite Exploit at Santa Anita. Then there is the 1 1/16-mile Fair Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies with Silverbulletday running for the winner's circle. On Sunday, check out the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, where Vicar and Cat Thief headline the field at Gulfstream Park. Also Sunday, the Fair Grounds' 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby boasts General Challenge and Prime Timber. The 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies will be worth a look for no other reason than watching Excellent Meeting run. Of the five, the Grade I $750,000 Florida Derby has the history, the biggest purse and the name recognition, so it will get most of the attention -- deserved or not. For decades, Gulfstream's signature race has been a valuable form pointer for the Kentucky Derby. Four of the past 20 Florida Derby winners -- Spectacular Bid, Swale, Unbridled and Thunder Gulch -- have won the big one on the first Saturday in May. Captain Bodgit narrowly missed two years ago. But I don't think this year's Kentucky Derby winner is in the Sunshine State. I also don't expect this Florida Derby to have much of an impact on the classics. But there's no need to obsess about the future, which will sort itself out soon enough without any help from anxious handicappers. Unless you're chasing dreams in the Derby future book, wagering is done in the present. The Florida Derby shapes up as an intriguing betting race, especially if you're skeptical about Vicar's wire-to-wire win in Gulfstream's Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 20. The weekend's other four stakes probably will be dominated by odds-on favorites, all trained by Baffert. They may not be unbeatable, but they're certainly unbettable, so I'll just watch and file away my thoughts for future reference. The Florida Derby may offer an opportunity for a value play, however, even if you don't think that horse will be worth following down the road. Vicar inherited an easy lead in the Fountain of Youth and was able to set moderate fractions along the rail on a track that was heavily biased toward inside speed. His time for 1 1/16 miles (1:45.34) was unimpressive, and six of his nine rivals had problems early and never were meaningfully involved. Vicar has won by stalking the pace at shorter distances, and he worked a strong five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 Tuesday at Gulfstream. But if you didn't cash on him at 9-2 last time, he may not be worth jumping on now. I'm looking at Grits'n Hard Toast, who rallied wide in the Fountain of Youth. I'll also favor the uncoupled Nick Zito duo of Adonis and Wondertross as upset possibilities. Casanova Star endured a miserable trip in the Fountain of Youth, and he'll be a huge price again. None of these longshots may even get to Churchill Downs, but that won't matter if one of them runs a big one Saturday and fattens your wallet. ABC will provide live coverage of the Florida Derby at 5:30 p.m. ET, while ESPN2 will show the San Felipe at 6 p.m. On Sunday, ESPN2 will televise the Louisiana Derby live from 5:30-6:30 p.m., while ESPN will show it on tape delay at midnight.