Race 14 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, March 30 | Post Time 6:36 PM Eastern Time

Florida Derby | Purse $1 million | One and One Eighth Miles | Three Year Olds

 

Bourbon War (4) makes his third start as a three year old and based on his pattern of improvement appears to be sitting on the best race of his career. Off an impressive maiden win last fall around one turn, Bourbon War was asked to step up his game tremendously when entered in the Remsen Stakes and checked in fourth of nine while never threatening to win. Returning in mid-January as a much more mature horse and debuting around two-turns without a prep race, Bourbon War won by the same two and one-quarter length margin as he had in his debut, but with a then career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 107. Six weeks later in the Fountain of Youth, Bourbon War improved again, this time earning a 110 figure while rallying from ninth in the opening quarter mile to second at the wire, beaten three-quarters of a length by Code of Honor (9) and making up nearly four lengths on that rival in the last eighth of a mile. As a son of Tapit, who produced 2014 Florida Derby winner Constitution, Bourbon War should run even better at this nine furlong trip and with more improvement in his Equibase Speed Figure expected, may be very tough to beat in this race.

Code of Honor (9) won in his debut last summer then, after stumbling at the start, rallied from 10th to second in the Champagne Stakes in the fall. Rested three months, Code of Honor returned to finish a non-threatening fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in January. Trainer McGaughey took the blame for that poor effort and stated between that race and the Fountain of Youth he worked Code of Honor very hard, resulting in a rebound of the first order when the colt won at odds of 9 to 1. Code of Honor earned a 111 figure in that race, which was not only a career-best but the highest last race figure in this field.  As he is making his third start off the three month layoff, better is certainly possible. As such, Code of Honor deserves a lot of respect when considering who can win this year's Florida Derby.

Bodexpress (8) will likely go to post at high odds, opening at 30 to 1, which in my opinion will be unjustified because he's got a decent shot to be a contender in the Florida Derby. Horses don't often earn the first wins of their careers in graded stakes as three year olds but it's not unheard of either, and in recent "Road to the Derby" races horses have won following their maiden wins. Bodexpress ran the best race of his career last month when second, beaten a neck, in a seven furlong sprint. The 103 figure was a bit shy of the 111 and 110 figures earned by the top two contenders in this race, but with improvement, his effort and figure could be in that range and so he must be given a long look as another upset possibility in a month where there have been so many in Derby prep races. Additionally, as a son of Bodemeister, who produced 2017 Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming, Bodexpress is bred to go the distance. Additionally, if (as it appears) stretching out Hard Belle and Maximum Security go for the lead and if Hidden Scroll runs as he did in the Fountain of Youth where he set a sizzling early pace, Bodexpress could be passing many, if not all of the field, in the late stages.

Harvey Wallbanger (3) posted the 29 to 1 upset in the Holy Bull Stakes over the track in February and has waited for this race ever since, passing the Fountain of Youth while continuing to train exceptionally well in the morning. His most recent workout on March 23 was the best of 100 on the day for the distance of four furlongs, indicating he's in peak form. The Holy Bull effort earned him a career-best 104 figure which would be competitive with the main contenders if he improves on it and opening at 15 to 1 he’s very playable. Additionally, Harvey Wallbanger rallied from ninth in the Holy Bull and if a hot early pace scenario comes to pass in this race he is another who could be strongly rallying in the stretch.

As for Hidden Scroll (1), it may have been the case he was pushed by another horse (Gladiator King, who since won the Hutcheson Stakes) and forced to run way too fast in the early stages before fading to fourth as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth. It could be just as likely he has yet to learn to relax and is a need-the-lead type. With Hard Belle and Maximum Security both stretching out from sprints and both likely to be running faster-than-average in the early stages while on or very close to the front, I'm taking a stand Hidden Scroll will get tired from either trying to go with those two or chasing a hot pace and I therefore I don't consider him a contender to win this race.

I also want to throw in Everfast (5), Hidden Scroll (1) and Maximum Security (7) in the second position on exacta tickets particularly so not to be kicking myself later of Bodexpress or Harvey Wallbanger happens to win.

 

Betting Strategies:

Win Bets: Bourbon War (2) to win at odds of 2 to 1.

For a smaller amount (perhaps just a token $2 or $5) Bodexpress (8) to win and place at 6 to 1 or higher, and Harvey Wallbanger (3) to win and place at 6 to 1 or higher.

Exacta: Harvey Wallbanger (3), Bourbon War (4), Bodexpress (8) and Code of Honor (9) over Harvey Wallbanger (3), Bourbon War (4), Bodexpress (8), Code of Honor (9), Everfast (5), Hidden Scroll (1) and Maximum Security (7).