Hunt for Derby clues goes on

Florida, Louisiana races showcasing top prospects

filly Surfside in Oaks

March 11, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- The roller-coaster ride along the Kentucky Derby trail dips into Florida today and soars tomorrow into Louisiana and California.

Eight weeks before the May 6 Derby at Churchill Downs, 10 colts will contest the prestigious Florida Derby this afternoon at Gulfstream Park between Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach.

Tomorrow, 10 more colts and geldings will run in the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Also tomorrow, Surfside, the lone filly threatening males along the Kentucky Derby and Preakness trails, will compete one last time against her own gender in the Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita Park before challenging males next month in the Santa Anita Derby.

In the Florida Derby, a $750,000 Grade I stakes of 1 1/8 miles, the top three finishers in the Fountain of Youth Stakes return for another romp around the typically speedy Gulfstream oval. For the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth three weeks ago, the surface was so fast that the horses running one-two-three around the far turn maintained that order until the finish.

Trainers fear that track maintenance workers will have the surface that fast again today.

"I think they have the perception they have to get the track as hard and fast as they can get them on these big days," Elliott Walden said. "I wish that would change."

Walden trains Elite Mercedes, third in the Fountain of Youth and 4-1 second choice in the Florida Derby. The trainer of recent Kentucky Derby-Preakness standouts Menifee and Victory Gallop, Walden said he believes Elite Mercedes will improve from that third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, his first start of the year.

Asked about High Yield, the Fountain of Youth winner, Walden said: "What's happened so far this year is not that important. The horses that have done well in January and February are not the horses that win the Derby in May."

D. Wayne Lukas, High Yield's trainer, said others are underestimating High Yield. He said he's sick and tired of hearing everyone credit the colt's Fountain of Youth victory to the fast track.

"So the track's slow tomorrow," Lukas said yesterday. "Which one would you bet on?"

The Gulfstream oddsmaker answered that by making High Yield the 8-5 morning-line favorite.

A surprise entrant in the Florida Derby was Postponed, the promising Summer Squall colt owned by Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance. They campaign Lemon Drop Kid, winner of last year's Belmont and Travers. Vance and Dance, who are married, own Taylor's Purchase Farm in Baltimore County.

Postponed's trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, said he wanted to run the colt in an allowance race today at Gulfstream. But the race did not attract enough horses and fell apart. So Schulhofer, desiring a race for Postponed, chose the Florida Derby.

An $835,000 yearling (Vance-Dance's most costly horse), Postponed has won two of four races. Acknowledging that Postponed will be a long shot because of his lack of experience, Schulhofer said he wasn't that upset about having to run him in Grade I company.

"This should get a good race in him," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "And he just might win it."

From the rail out, here's the field for the Florida Derby with odds: High Yield 8-5, Scottish Halo 6-1, Postponed 15-1, Hal's Hope 6-1, Elite Mercedes 4-1, Bare Outline 8-1, Hades 12-1, Settlement 20-1, Deputy Warlock 20-1 and Tahkadha Hills 10-1.

Tomorrow, Bob Baffert, who trained Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet, plans on starting his best two Derby prospects, Tribunal and Captain Steve, in the $750,000, Grade II Louisiana Derby.

Tribunal needs the experience, Baffert said. A $1.8 million, regally bred yearling (the sire was Deputy Minister, the mare Six Crowns), Tribunal has never competed in a stakes.

Captain Steve won three graded stakes last year as a 2-year-old. The Grade I Hollywood Futurity in December at Hollywood Park was his greatest conquest.

A son of Fly So Free, Captain Steve has not raced since Jan. 30. Baffert said he doesn't think the colt will run his best until his next race, likely the Santa Anita Derby.

"He's not sitting on a huge, huge race," Baffert said. "I know this is the Louisiana Derby and all that. But you can't worry about winning these. I look at these races as scrimmages for the big game in Louisville."

Captain Steve is the 2-1 favorite in New Orleans, and Tribunal the fourth choice at 6-1. Lukas' Exchange Rate is 7-2, and More Than Ready 5-1.

A Southern Halo colt with blazing speed, More Than Ready was the early star of the 2-year-old class last year. He won his first five races, including two graded stakes in New York. He tailed off and now faces questions about his ability to run a distance.

His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he chose the Louisiana Derby because, at 1 1/16 miles, it is a sixteenth-mile shorter than the Florida Derby.

"This is his first start around two turns, so we thought the gradual progression made more sense," Pletcher said. "We need to see where we stand in these longer races.

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