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Johnny D’s Xpressbet Florida Derby Analysis & Picks

by Johnny D

March 28, 2019

In this wild and wacky sophomore racing season what are the chances that the Xpressbet Florida Derby result adds a bit of predictability to the mix? Since January 19, there have been 16 races with Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points attached. Each has been won by a different 3-year-old! In that timeframe only War of Will is a Road to the Kentucky Derby repeat winner—he won the Lecomte Jan. 19 and Risen Star Feb. 16. Overall, since Sept. 15, there have been 28 US-based races awarding Derby qualifying points with just 3 repeat winners—Game Winner 9/29, 11/2; Long Range Toddy 12/16, 3/16 and War of Will.

Those results challenge horseplayers inclined to back either Xpressbet Fountain of Youth winner Code of Honor or Holy Bull Stakes hero Harvey Wallbanger in respective quests to double-up. Then again, maybe this 3-year-old season finally is due for some predictability. 

 Below is one man’s horse-by-horse analysis and suggested Xpressbet Florida Derby wagers:

1. Hidden Scroll (Mott/Castellano) - 5/2

Winner of his initial start in rapid, wire-to-wire fashion by more than 14 lengths in the slop at Gulfstream Park, Hidden Scroll was heavily favored to return triumphantly in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth. In that race he chased Gladiator King early--a huge longshot that returned to win a sprint stakes--and then continued to set some very fast fractions. In the lane, he understandably faded but did not totally collapse—he was touched out for third by a nose…and that’s a good thing. He’s talented but perhaps not quite as incredible as his wet track triumph originally suggested. A pair of Hall-of-Famers: trainer Bill Mott and jockey Javier Castellano will combine skills to see if they can get this talented animal to relax and save his best for the finish. He’s favored in here but unless he does something he hasn’t done before (relax) he really doesn’t rank head and shoulders above the rest.

2. Current (Pletcher/Franco) - 15/1

His entry was a last-minute audible by connections including trainer Todd Pletcher. Lately, Pletcher has had the hot hand in sophomore preps, however, this guy seems in a bit deep. All but one of his 6 lifetime starts has come on turf. He had some success last fall, winning the Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland on grass. He also has a bullet half-mile dirt work at Palm Beach Downs for this. He’s a toss for me.

3. Harvey Wallbanger (McPeek/Hernandez Jr.) - 15/1

It took this son of Congrats 4 starts to break his maiden. However, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He finished second 3 times: sprinting at Saratoga; routing at Keeneland and two-turning at Churchill. When he finally did get home on top it was in another maiden route at Churchill at 4/5 odds. It’s notable that in his second start at Keeneland he blew past subsequent Sunland Derby winner Cutting Humor on the turn like breaking sticks. That afternoon ‘Harvey missed by a nose-bob to Plus Que Parfait. He doesn’t have early speed, but he’s got a steady closing gear and acts handy in a tight spot. He rode the rail to win the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull in style at 25-1! Trainer Ken McPeek did not bring ‘Harvey back in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth choosing to rest him for this race. A breezing 4-furlong bullet in :47 at Gulfstream on 3/23—best of 100—adds interest. Overall, there’s lots to like about this guy who may not be the most talented in this group but always tries.

4. Bourbon War (Hennig/Ortiz Jr.) - 7/2

He also exits the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth and benefitted from a fast pace to close well for second behind Code of Honor. This son of Tapit and winner of 2 of 4 starts seemed to figure things out too late in the stretch when he finally leveled out and spurted toward the winner. Sometimes he runs a bit sideways in the stretch—head cocked, lugging in. Perhaps the light went on for this son of Tapit in the Fountain of Youth stretch. He defeated eventual Sunland Derby winner Cutting Humor on the square in a Gulfstream allowance race. Since Bourbon War comes from far behind, he’s pace-dependent. Good news is that he will have extra real estate to work with Saturday. If he puts it all together again and gets a pace setup, he fits in here. If not, he’ll split the field.

5. Everfast (Romans/Landeros) - 20/1

With 1 win in 8 starts he isn’t the most reliable of this bunch. He did manage to close for second behind Harvey Wallbanger in the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull and that shows he likes the Gulfstream surface. However, he didn’t fare nearly as well in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth and probably won’t threaten much in here either. 

6. Hard Belle (Mejia/Batista) - 50/1

Trainer Jaime Mejia is a dismal 3-for-98 at the meeting and part of the reason for the weak record is that he takes outlandish shots with many of his runners. This is one. Like the Mejia-trained Gladiator King, who hooked up with Hidden Scroll early in the Fountain of Youth, Hard Belle ought to show speed in this race. Will history repeat with Hidden Scroll stride-for-stride early with Hard Belle? Probably not. Either way, this sprinter stretching out to a mile and one-eighth is impossible to endorse.

7. Maximum Security (Ja. Servis/Saez) - 9/2

If you’re searching for an unbeaten 3-year-old with an unblemished record over today’s surface this is your guy. Does it concern you that 3 races ago he started for a maiden $16k price? That placement is called ‘taking an edge.’ An advantage to starting this one for a tag is that he became eligible to return to win two starter handicap races—one at 1-5 odds and the other at 1-9 odds. That’s 3-for-3 for this guy without ever taking a deep breath. No wonder trainer Jason Servis wins at an un-godly 37% clip. Such maneuvers also are known as ‘playing with fire.’ Someone could have dipped into the claim box first out to halter this future Xpressbet Derby starter at a bargain basement price! They didn’t, though, and Maximum Security is here to do his best for his breeders and original connections Gary and Mary West. He’s facing a tremendous challenge: better foes and a first try around two turns. He has early foot but doesn’t seem speed crazy. If the price is right—he’s worth a shot to those willing to play on the come.  

8. Bodexpress (Delgado/Juarez) - 30/1

This will be Bodexpress’ first try around 2 turns. He’s made steady improvement for trainer Gustavo Delgado in four races but is being thrown to the wolves in here. He rallied nicely to miss by a neck in a 7-furlong maiden race last out, but this is another world. Pass on him.

9. Code of Honor (McGaughey/Velazquez) - 3/1

Winner of the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth, Code of Honor attempts to validate some early hype that began in August when he broke maiden at Saratoga followed by a troubled, closing second in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont. He was completely flat in the Mucho Macho Man early in January at Gulfstream but rebounded strongly to win the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth. He enjoyed a perfect trip in a race with a pace that was suitable to his closing style. He’s worked well since and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey’s pre-race comments regarding the colt have been extremely positive. While he may not enjoy a similar pace setup that he got in the Fountain of Youth there’s really no reason to dismiss him.

10. Union's Destiny (Avila/Reyes) - 30/1

Last out, in his fourth career start, this son of Union Rags faced a difficult task in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth that was made even more challenging because of a far outside 11-hole post position. Predictably, he raced very wide into the first turn but still managed to finish a respectable sixth. His lone win came at Gulfstream in a 7-furlong maiden race. At 94-1 last out against many of the same runners he’ll face Saturday he seems destined to be a huge longshot in this Grade 1.

11. Garter and Tie (Nicks/Sanchez) - 15/1

Blinkers come off of this Florida-bred son of Brooks ’n Down for this race. Likely, he’ll need more help than that. He’s made 8 starts with 2 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds. He’s a stakes winner at Gulfstream Park and finished sixth last out in Harvey Wallbanger’s Holy Bull. He’s steady but unspectacular and probably will lose ground early because of his outside draw. He would be a real surprise on the win end of things. 


Bottom Line

Ones to Beat: #1 Hidden Scroll 5/2, #9 Code of Honor 3-1

Exotics Key: #3 Harvey Wallbanger 15-1

Question Marks: #7 Maximum Security, #4 Bourbon War


Suggested Wagers $52 Total

$10 Win 3 ($10)

$5 Exacta 1, 9 with 3 ($30)

$1 Trifecta 1, 4, 7, 9 with 1, 4, 7, 9 with 3 ($12)

Race On!