With Gulfstream Park's Sunday feature race, the Grade III Holy Bull, Kentucky Derby fever heats up - especially for those connections seeking much-needed graded stakes earnings for their three-year-old charges. While there are some interesting choices among the nine starters, I'm surprised that the field is not full, since whoever wins the race most likely punches their Derby ticket with the $240,000 winner's share. Even the $80,000 second-place prize isn't anything to laugh about so early in the Derby prep season.
Besides the current top seven graded stakes earners, there is room for at least 13 additional horses in Churchill's Derby gate. These seven: Uncle Mo, Pluck, Gourmet Dinner, Boys at Tosconova, Comma to the Top, Biondetti and Soldat are likely Derby starters based upon earnings that range from $1.2 million to $270,000. Of course these runners need to stay healthy and do something on the track, unless the connections decide to run on the first Saturday in May no matter what - see Homeboykris' 16th-place finish last year.
Back to Sunday's feature - Gourmet Dinner joins the fray with his gaudy $660,000 in graded stakes earnings thanks to his Delta Jackpot victory, which carried a million dollar purse. Unfortunately, Delta Jackpot winners haven't fared well when running up to the Derby. With Delta Downs bullring style track - a 7 furlong track, which requires three tight turns for 1 1/16 mile race - the Jackpot winner usually takes to sprinting. On the flip-side, the Holy Bull is a one-turn mile usually taken by sprinters and Gourmet Dinner breaks from the rail.
Two-time Derby winning trainer, Nick Zito, brings the most intriguing entrant to Sunday's race - Dialed In. This $475,000 purchase broke last in his one and only start in a November Churchill sprint. Going from 12 to first in six-and-a-half furlongs was impressive to say the least. Zito scratched Dialed In out of an allowance event two weeks ago due to a wet track, but immediately committed to this graded stakes event. Confidence or stupidity? With Zito off to a hot start and knowing the Derby trail well, I'd go with confidence.
Mucho Macho Man chased the second-leading Derby contender out of New York - To Honor and Serve - throughout Aqueduct's fall meet. Is he good enough or just not good enough to compete at this high level? I say he is a very good chaser, good enough for an underneath finish here and ultimately a decent sprinter up to a mile. What he brings to tomorrow's affair is the highest last-out Beyer, 99, which could prove dangerous with so many weaker speed figures evident.
Like Dialed In, Major Gain, brings a fall race over Churchill's track albeit a third place finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Cup. Finishing behind the well-thought of Astrology and currently standing at 24th on the Derby graded-stakes standings, Major Gain becomes a major player with a win on Sunday.
From purely a handicapping stance, Black N Beauty makes a lot of sense here. Over a speed favoring track, Black N Beauty shows the only true front-running speed in this bunch. If this paltry-purchased colt ($2,500) sired by Devil His Due gets away with some soft early fractions around 24 seconds, he may be very hard to catch and would become this year's early Cinderella-story.