Florida is always one of the warmest places to be during this time of year, but this weekend it's about to get a whole lot hotter. Not only is Gulfstream Park hosting a fabulous race card, filled with appetizing allowance races and juicy stakes, but it feature the Gulfstream Oaks and, the big enchilada, the Florida Derby.
The first race to draw attention on Saturday's card is the fifth race, an allowance optional claiming. The two main draws there are Tapitsfly and Hibaayeb. The former won the 09 edition of the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She came back this year with a disappointing effort in her first start, where she finished 11, however she came back to run a much improved second in her next outing. Hibaayeb surprised all when she came over from Europe and took the Grade one Yellow Ribbon, at Hollywood Park by storm. If she can pull out another performance like that she will be tough to handle.
The next race to come will be the Rampart, featuring the return of last year's Breeders Cup Ladies Classic victor, Unrivaled Belle. The five year old mare, who last year beat the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, makes her 2011 debut while defending her Rampart crown. However with the likes of the ever so consistent Awesome Maria and Persuading, who returns to dirt, in the race, the daughter of Unbridled Song will have her work cut out for her.
Saturday will end with the Gulfstream Oaks, formerly known as the Bonnie Miss. Here R Heat Lightning gets her first taste of nine furlongs, and her performance will define her as a miler or the division leader, heading into the Kentucky Oaks. The horse that is expected to give R Heat Lightning her biggest challenge is the unbeaten star from Aqueduct, It's Tricky. The daughter of Mineshaft has absolutely dominated her competition in her last two starts but should receive a much stiffer test in this spot.
Sunday opens up with a dynamic and wide open field for the Swale featuring Black N Beauty, Travelin Man, and Little Drama. Black N Beauty is trying to recover the form that saw him wire a solid allowance field earlier this year. Travelin Man will try to wire the field, while his nemesis, Flashpoint, runs in the more lucritive Florida Derby, while the Calder sensation Little Drama tries to fit in with the big boys. The Sir Shackleton should heat things up as D'Funnybone, Iboyee, Our Edge, and Regal Ransom all hook up for the lead, to see who can go fastest the longest, setting things up for Capt. Candyman Can, who returned after a 16 month layoff to take the Super Stakes. D'Funnybone, who displayed both blazing and dazzling speed, early last year before tailing off, returns after eight months away. The question is, can he return to his brilliant form that he had as a 2 year old and early on as a three year old, or has he just finally flamed out?
The next two races, the Appleton and Skip Away Stakes flash names like Nicanor, Barbaro's little brother, and Little Mike, who has been performing quite well in his last couple outings. In the latter we have Colizeo and Drosselmeyer. I know it seems like the day could not get any better.
You would think that by this time the stands will have to be all but cheered out, right? Wrong, because, believe it or not, the Florida Derby tops anything that any of the previous races had. I would go as far as to say the Foriday Derby is the most competitive Derby prep this year. Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, Dialed In, and Flashpoint will all do battle, and by time the dust settles, we may very well have a horse that could give even the might Uncle Mo a challenge in the Run for the Roses? So, what do you think? Can you take the heat?