IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr.’s Big Brown has a maiden win on turf and an allowance victory on dirt in his two career starts and he drew the unfavorable outside post for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (Grade I), but his reputation is so huge that the inexperienced colt was still installed as the 3-1 morning line choice for the 1 1/8-mile race.
The Richard Dutrow Jr.-trained son of Boundary will have Kent Desormeaux in the saddle as he breaks from the outside gate in the field of a dozen 3-year-olds in Gulfstream Park’s key prep for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
IEAH Stables purchased majority interest in Big Brown after his maiden victory on the grass at Saratoga, but foot concerns kept him away from the races until March 5. He made his debut for Dutrow in a six-length romp in an allowance moved from turf to the dirt.
“I tell you what, he took our breath away,” Dutrow said. “I can’t blame anybody for getting excited about him.”
Major opposition to Big Brown figures to come from Robert Evans’ Elysium Fields, the runner-up to Cool Coal Man in the Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream. The son of El Prado is trained by Barclay Tagg, who saddled Funny Cide to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby.
A question mark is Majestic Warrior, the winner of last year’s Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owned by a partnership that includes the Kinsman Stable of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. The A.P. Indy colt finished seventh behind Kentucky Derby favorite Pyro in the Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds in his 2008 debut.
Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito will saddle Minor Stable’s Fierce Wind for Saturday’s race. The son of Dixie Union defeated Big Truck in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, and the latter returned to win the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) in his next start.
Other intriguing newcomers looking to enter the Kentucky Derby picture are Bea Oxenberg’s Hey Byrn and Jet Set Racing Stable’s Tomcito. Hey Byrn steps into major stakes competition after a pair of flashy allowance race victories for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. Tomcito makes his U.S. racing debut after a 2007 campaign in Peru in which he won four of five races. He already possesses Southern Hemisphere victories at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles and the Belmont Stakes (GI) distance of a mile and a half.
The field for the Florida Derby (from the rail out with jockeys) includes: Fierce Wind (Cornelio Velasquez), Smooth Air (Manoel Cruz), Da’ Tara (Joe Bravo), Tomcito (Jorge Chavez), Cool Gator (Eddie Castro), Nistle’s Crunch (Julien Leparoux), B B Frank (Javier Castellano), Elysium Fields (Eibar Coa), Hey Byrn (Jose Lezcano), Majestic Warrior (Rene Douglas), Face the Cat (John Velazquez), and Big Brown (Desormeaux).
WAR PASS SHARP IN PALM MEADOWS WORK – Trainer Nick Zito is more willing to forgive and forget the dismal effort by Robert LaPenta’s War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) following a sharp four-furlong work on Thursday’s at Palm Meadows Training Center.
The reigning 2-year-old champion in American racing zipped through the half-mile over a “fast” track in :47.40 in his first work since a last-place finish as a 1-20 favorite at Tampa Bay Downs on March 15. Maxine Correa was aboard the son of Cherokee Run, who is being pointed toward the $750,000 Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on April 5.
“I was happy with everything,” Zito told Daily Racing Form. “I’m praying, thanking God that we got another shot.”
The loss in the Tampa Bay Derby was the first for War Pass, who had never been seriously challenged in five earlier starts that included the $2 million Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Three wins came at the expense of current Kentucky Derby favorite Pyro.
TRIPLE CROWN NOMS FACE ELDERS IN UAE DERBY – The field for Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (GII) at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba includes four 3-year-olds, three of whom are nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
The nominees include Godolphin’s Numaany, who started his career last fall at Aqueduct; Zayat Stable’s Massive Drama, a U.S.-based colt who makes his first start for Kentucky-based trainer Dale Romans; and Martyn Barber’s Strike the Deal, fourth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park.
But the 1 1/8-mile UAE Derby is unusual in that it pits Northern Hemisphere-bred 3-year-olds against horses bred in the Southern Hemisphere that have already turned four. Older horses appear to hold the upper hand in Saturday’s race, which is on the undercard of the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The favorites include Royal Vintage and Honour Devil, a pair of horses saddled by South African trainer Mike de Kock, who won the race last year with Asiatic Boy. Royal Vintage came out on top as those rivals finished a head apart – and 1 ½ lengths in front of Numaany – in a prep for the UAE Derby.
NAKATANI BACK ABOARD COLONEL JOHN – Jockey Corey Nakatani will be back in the saddle aboard WinStar Farm’s Colonel John when the colt runs in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 5.
Garrett Gomez rode the son of Distorted Humor to victory in the Sham Stakes (GIII) when Nakatani was sidelined by a broken collarbone, but the 2007 Eclipse Award-winning jockey is committed to ride Court Vision in the Wood Memorial on the same day. Others considered likely for the Santa Anita Derby include El Gato Malo, Georgie Boy, Yankee Bravo, On the Virg, Polonious, Signature Move and Coast Guard.
LATE NOMINATIONS FOR KENTUCKY DERBY, TRIPLE CROWN DUE BY SATURDAY – The deadline for late nominations to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Triple Crown is quickly approaching. Owners and trainers have until midnight Saturday, March 19 to nominate horses to the coveted three-race series.
Nominations, at $6,000 each, will be taken by telephone at (502) 638-3825 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A near-record 449 nominations were taken during the early sign-up period that ended Jan. 19. The fee at that time was $600 per nominee.