HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Coronado's Quest stands poised again to challenge the top 3-year-olds in the East. On Saturday, the colt owned by Stuart S. Janney III will meet familiar rivals in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
But the star of the day might be unveiled about four hours earlier.
Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year, will make his 1998 debut on the Florida Derby undercard in the Swale Stakes, a seven-furlong race worth $100,000. Bill Mott, the colt's trainer, said the Swale and then probably the 1 1/8 -mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland will be Favorite Trick's only auditions for the grand ball, the Kentucky Derby on May 2 at Churchill Downs.
Despite an 8-for-8 performance last year that earned the Eclipse Award for top 2-year-old male, Favorite Trick must show in two starts that the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles is within reach. His pedigree is that of a sprinter.
"I don't think the Swale is really going to tell us anything about the Derby -- other than that he's doing OK, that he's good enough to win a race," Mott said yesterday at Payson Park, the training center where Favorite Trick is stabled. "But we knew he was good enough to do that before, right?"
Mott said the Swale is a logical comeback race for Favorite Trick, who underwent a trainer change over the winter as well as treatment for chronically sore ankles. The field for the Swale will be drawn today, but post positions for the 1 1/8 -mile $750,000 Florida Derby were chosen yesterday.
After drawing the No. 5 and 6 posts, respectively, Lil's Lad and Coronado's Quest were deemed the 4-5 and 9-5 morning-line selections. Three weeks ago, they finished one-two in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The third- and fourth-place finishers in the Fountain of Youth, Halory Hunter and Cape Town, will also contest the Florida Derby. Joining them are two long shots, Voyamerican and Starship Charles.
Lil's Lad is not only the morning-line favorite in the Florida Derby, but also the consensus future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. So far in 1998 he is 3-for-3, flashing blazing speed that has netted wins of 2 1/4 , 6 1/4 and 16 1/2 lengths.
"The Fountain of Youth was the turning point," said Neil Howard, the trainer of Lil's Lad. "He got pressure early and late, and he still finished strong. I just hope he keeps finishing that way."
Shug McGaughey, trainer of Coronado's Quest, pointed out that his colt carried 119 pounds in the Fountain of Youth to Lil's Lad's 112. In the Florida Derby, all entrants carry 122.
"The weight change is significant," McGaughey said. "Plus, the added distance won't hurt Coronado's Quest. He's won going a mile and an eighth before [Remsen Stakes in November]. That was probably his best race yet."
As always with Coronado's Quest, pre-race behavior is a major ** concern. The colt's owner, Janney, who lives in Butler, said the temperamental son of Forty Niner must display better manners if he's going to be able to handle the boisterous crowd at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
Coronado's Quest often freezes in the paddock once his jockey, Mike Smith, is aboard. Before the Fountain of Youth, McGaughey saddled the colt in the tunnel between the paddock and track. That helped. He might repeat the unorthodox process for the Florida Derby.
Where: Gulfstream Park
Post time: 5: 45 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Favorite: Lil's Lad
Weights: All carry 122 pounds
Local interest: Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Butler, owns Coronado's Quest
!... ... ... ..Trainer/
PP Horse .....Jockey .. ........ Odds
1 Voyamerican Carlos J. Morales/ 15-1
............. Eibar Coa
2 Halory .... Nick Zito/ ........ 6-1
Hunter ...... Pat Day
3 Starship .. Ralph Ziadie/ .... 30-1
Charles ..... Eduardo Nunez
4 Cape ...... D. Wayne Lukas/ ... 8-1
Town ........ Shane Sellers
5 Lil's ..... Neil Howard/ ...... 4-5
Lad ......... Jerry Bailey
6 Coronado's .Shug McGaughey/ ... 9-5
Quest ....... Mike Smith
Pub Date: 3/12/98