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Need some help getting started? Racing analyst Keeler Johnson is ready to share his plays for the weekend contest action:
Road to the Derby: Florida Derby
$1,000 Bonus Cash
To pick the top four finishers in Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
In a quest to win a substantial share of the prize pool, I’ll think a bit outside the box with my selections. #7 Tiz the Law is the 6-5 morning line favorite off a decisive win in the Holy Bull (G3), but the son of Constitution hasn’t run in two months and missed some training time in February. I’m not sure he’ll be cranked for a peak effort off the layoff.
I’m also hesitant to back runaway Fountain of Youth (G2) winner #12 Ete Indien considering he’s drawn outside in a race packed with speed. It’s unlikely he’ll receive the same comfortable pace-setting trip he enjoyed last time out.
Instead, I’ll play #5 Gouverneur Morris on top. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have each scored five wins in the Florida Derby, and Gouverneur Morris appears poised for a step forward after winning a quality allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs in his sophomore debut. Gouverneur Morris showed promise as a juvenile, placing in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and should deliver his best run yet on Saturday.
For the runner-up spot, I’ll use two-time stakes winner #9 Independence Hall, who tracked a fast pace before settling for second place in a strong renewal of the Sam F. Davis (G3).
1st: #5 Gouverneur Morris
2nd: #9 Independence Hall
3rd: #7 Tiz the Law
4th: #12 Ete Indien
Road to the Derby $10K
$10,000 Bonus Cash
To pick the winners of five stakes races on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The Orchid (G3) kicks off the contest action, and since there isn’t much speed in this 1 3/8-mile grass race, #6 Mean Mary should be able to shake loose on the front end and lead this field all the way. A daughter of Scat Daddy out of a Dynaformer mare, Mean Mary used front-running tactics to post a five-length victory the 1 1/2-mile La Prevoyante (G3) at Gulfstream two months ago.
The undefeated #9 Tonalist’s Shape will be favored to win the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Parks Oaks (G2) after claiming Gulfstream’s Davona Dale (G2) in gate-to-wire fashion, but stretching out around two turns could give an edge to the Davona Dale runner-up #5 Spice Is Nice. A stoutly-bred daughter of Curlin out of the Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Dame Dorothy, Spice Is Nice is bred to relish longer distances and was gaining ground on Tonalist’s Shape down the homestretch last time out.
I’m not convinced #9 Zulu Alpha is unbeatable at a super short price in the 1 1/2-mile Pan American (G2), but his victories in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida (G2) at Gulfstream have stamped him as the runner to beat. At least a half-dozen others could spring the upset if Zulu Alpha misfires, so rather than take a shot in the dark, I’ll place my trust in the 3-5 morning line favorite.
The one-mile Appleton (G3) looks wide-open with plenty of contenders to consider, so I’ll try the 8-1 shot #3 March to the Arch, who has shown flashes of talent against good company. Beaten a length in the 2019 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), March to the Arch enters off a narrow loss in the Tampa Bay (G3) and figures to receive a ground-saving trip while breaking from post 3.
I’ll round out my entry with #5 Gouverneur Morris in the Florida Derby (G1).
Orchid (G3): #6 Mean Mary
Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2): #5 Spice Is Nice
Pan American (G2): #9 Zulu Alpha
Appleton (G3): #3 March to the Arch
Florida Derby: #5 Gouverneur Morris