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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM


By John Piesen

March madness. The opening of the baseball season. Big events for sure. But for a certain demographic of sports fans (you know who you are), the big news of the weekend comes out of Hallandale, Fla., and New Orleans, La. — the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby, respectively.

Two major stops on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Two expensive stops for sure.

Both races boast $1 million purses, both are worth 100 points in the Ky. Derby point standings, both cap stakes-filled Saturday cards, and both are reasonably wide-open betting contests at a mile and a furlong.

And either or both could produce the favorite in the Ky. Derby, although the Wood, Santa Anita Derby and/or the Arkansas Derby may and probably will say something about that.

(Just imagine the media circus in Louisville if Tapiture, trained by one Steve Asmussen, should win in Hot Springs, and go to Louisville as the favorite or second choice.)

But, at least for the moment, the Florida and Louisiana Derby winners will go to the head of the class…or at least the point standings.

The two races will be run a half-hour apart in the 6 o’clock hour. So just in case you’re not having a good day, you need to put some green aside.

My selections will be up and running online at and at 1-888-777-4155. So far so good on the Derby Trail, and I warmed up for these two biggies by nailing the cold trifecta last Sunday in the 800K Sunland Derby.

Chitu won the Sunland for Bob Baffert, and Bullet Bob also has Hopportunity and Bayern heading for the Derby, so you’ve been warned.

In the meantime, Bob is sitting out Saturday’s action. Since the Florida Derby is a Grade One, and the Louisiana Derby merely a Grade 2 (what’s a million bucks between friends these days?), let’s go to Florida first.

Cairo Prince, a 250K son of Pioneerof the Nile, will be favored under regular rider Luis Saez from the three-hole in a field of eight. Two of the eight — East Hall and Allstar — had to be dragged into the race by the racing secretary kicking and screaming.

Cairo Prince will be looking to become the first gray horse since Spectacular Bid in 1977 to win the Kentucky Derby, and has a good chance to give the Godolphin folks their first KD winner.

CP is three-for-four, his only loss a dirty nose to Honor Code last November in the Remsen at Aqueduct. In case you missed the news, Honor Code, the winter-book favorite for the Derby,  got hurt last week, and is one of many potential stars off the Derby trail.

Trainer Kieran McLaughlin is playing it safe with Cairo Prince, only running him twice before Louisville. The Holy Bull Stakes, which he won by five-plus two months back at Gulf, and the Florida Derby.

CP was flattered when Intense Holiday, third in the Holy Bull, came back to win the Risen Star, and will be one of the choices in the Louisiana Derby.

Of interest is the fact that jockey Saez took less than a New York minute to choose Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby over Wildcat Red,  on whom he won the Fountain of Youth.

But trainer Jose Garoffalo got lucky. Johnny Velazquez, who has been winning at a 20 per cent clip since returning from injury, was available to ride Wildcat Red, who also had the good fortune to draw the rail, a major plus going two-turns over what has been a speed-biased track.

If Wildcat Red should get loose on the first turn, school would be out. But that’s a big if.

Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario are both aggressive riders, and both are sitting on speedballs — Constitution and General a Rod, respectively.

Incidentally, owner J. Armando Rodriguez named General a Rod for himself, not for that conspicuous baseball player.

A contested pace could only help Cairo Price, who has set the perfect stalk-and-pounce trip in all four of his races. 

Looking for a price? Look no further than Spot, who, in his first start for Nick Zito, came from downtown Fort Lauderdale to win the seven-furlong Swale at a 21 mutuel.

Corey Lanerie will be Spot’s seventh different rider in seven starts.

In a previous meeting with Wildcat Red, Spot was beaten eight lengths at 30-1 at seven-eighths — but that was BZ (before Zito). and, as a grandson of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, Spot may improve going long.

Matador is another longshot with a chance. His owner, John Oxley, won a Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, and his trainer Mark Casse, sent the bulk of his string to Oaklawn Park while keeping Matador in Florida for the Florida Derby. 

And no bull. Matador is due for some good racing luck.

*******Next Stop On the Derby Trail...*******
The Florida and Louisiana Derbies
And John Piesen Has the Winners!

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As for the Louisiana Derby, this race is virtually a rematch of Intense Holiday, Albano, and Vicar’s in Trouble, the first three finishers in the Risen Star. Moreover, Gold Hawk and/or Rise Up figure to improve off their off-the-board finishes in the Risen Star.

Then there’s the Lukas factor. Although D. Wayne doesn’t have a dog in the hunt, three of his protégés are very much involved — Todd Pletcher (Intense Holiday and King Cyrus), Dallas Stewart (Commanding Curve) and Mike Maker (Vicar’s in Trouble).

And what about the other trouble — In Trouble?

Trainer Tony Dutrow easily could have kept In Trouble in New York for the Wood a week later, but instead made the long ship for this very difficult race.

In Trouble, with Joe Rocco Jr., figures to work out a stalking trip behind Albano, who has posted a pair of :59 works for Larry Jones since his near-miss in the Risen Star at 13-1.

But Albano had the one-hole in the Risen Star. He’s got a long way to go from the extreme outside post in the 10-horse Louisiana Derby.

We like to concentrate on 3-year-olds in this space at this time of the year, but.truth be told, the most intriguing race on the Saturday calendar is the 400K New Orleans Handicap at nine furlongs for 4-and-up at Fair Grounds.

For starters, you’ve got Palace Malice (Pletcher/Smith) vs. Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown/Castellano).

Then there are Bradester, Golden Soul, Mister Mardi Gras, Prayer for Relief, Sunbeam and Fordubai.

You don’t want to miss this baby.

Here’s My Derby Top 10:

1. California Chrome Sherman   Espinoza
2. Bayern  Baffert  Garcia
3. Cairo Prince  McLaughlin Saez
4. Social Inclusion   Azpurua Contreras
5. Tapiture Asmussen Santana
6. Chitu  Baffert  Garcia
7. Strong Mandate Lukas Rosario
8. Candy Boy Sadler Stevens
9. Hopportunity    Baffert  Smith
10. Samraat  Violette Ortiz

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, keep the Hot Line handy, go Virginia, and see you back here next week for a preview of the Wood and Santa Anita Derby.

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