Saturday, March 28, 2020
By Jeremy Plonk
Saturday's 14-race Florida Derby Day extravaganza at Gulfstream Park includes a whopping 10 stakes races. More than $45 million has been handled the past 2 years on this day, and with many Americans staying home (and with limited gambling options), there's no telling what level of betting could be in store. There's a guaranteed payout for the Rainbow Six on Races 9-14, a $400,000 late pick five guaranteed pool on Races 10-14 and a $500,000 late pick four guaranteed pool in Races 11-14. The Grade 2 Pan American goes as Race 12 and will be a part of all those tempting multi-race wagers.
Grade 1 winner ZULU ALPHA has the distinct class advantage on his resume. Defending champion FOCUS GROUP has scored at this Grade 2 level. CHANNEL CAT has won at the Grade 2 level and is Grade 1-placed. The rest are paced by Grade 3 winners SPOOKY CHANNEL and CURRENT.
Over 1-1/2 miles on turf, you expect a galloper's pace that's not taxing. MANICOMIO could make the front based on his dirt form going shorter. But much of this field simply wants to wait and make a late run. CHANNEL CAT, typically not a front-runner, did wire the Bowling Green in July when the rider was intent on the front. From the rail, Joel Rosario may sense that move and try to apply if the horse will cooperate.
ZULU ALPHA aims for a third major win on turf at the meet. He topped the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf in late January, and added the the Mac Diarmida a month later. He'll carry co-top weight of 124 pounds and spot this field 2-6 pounds (SPOOKY CHANNEL also totes 124). With victories in 4 of 5 starts at Gulfstream, a continuance of form for ZULU ALPHA should prove better than these. He'll have to encounter trouble or a form regression to be beaten. Trainer Mike Maker also has GO POKE THE BEAR, under the hot-riding Paco Lopez, and BEMMA'S BOY, who will be piloted by Florent Geroux, who has been on a stakes roll nationally in the past few months.
Defending Pan American champ FOCUS GROUP hasn't won in 5 starts since last year's score. He's finished off the board in 4 of those 5 bids and hasn't raced since the Sycamore at Keeneland in October. Trainer Christophe Clement had him ready last year off a similar layoff, and FOCUS GROUP managed to put himself into the race much closer in a paceless heat like he'll need to do Saturday.
CHANNEL CAT has lost 5 in a row and 8 of his last 9, but he's not without a shot. Consider he was 12-1 in the Pegasus World Cup when not firing after a rocky start. ZULU ALPHA, the winner, was 11-1 going into that spot. We haven't seen CHANNEL CAT since, but the Todd Pletcher trainee has been training very well at Palm Beach Downs, and the barn also will have CURRENT in the mix. CURRENT was an early developer who hasn't yet found his footing among the elder turf division.
SPOOKY CHANNEL upset the Grade 3 McKnight at 36-1 in January, but was well back of ZULU ALPHA in the Mac Diarmida since then. The former Arizona turf ace has been up-and-down in his Florida forays and difficult to fully trust. But Brian Lynch-Julien Leparoux on the turf can tempt at a big enough price.
The field is rounded out by recent claiming winner PRINCE OF ARABIA and Sunshine Million Turf third-place finisher GALLEON MAST, who has had some success in shorter, softer spots over this course.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: ZULU ALPHA is a solid favorite appears trustworthy.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: BEMMA'S BOY has trained well for this and showed immense talent at Keeneland last fall. He's not gotten uncorked over the winter, but is showing signs he could be Maker's latest veteran turf claimer to make the big stakes ascent.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $80 exacta ZULU ALPHA over BEMMA'S BOY. $20 exacta BEMMA'S BOY over ZULU ALPHA.