After trailing the field by as much as 14 lengths, Dialed In kicked into gear late with a driving finish to win the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Florida Derby. Sent off as the second choice behind Soldat, Dialed In's performance was reminiscent of the great Zenyatta, loping along at the back of the field as if out for a casual stroll while the front runners, Shackleford and To Honor And Serve, set sharp fractions up front. As expected, Shackleford, To Honor And Serve, and Flashpoint broke for the lead and remained grouped through much of the race with Soldat just behind them. Under a patient ride by jockey Julien Leparoux, Dialed In moved from seventh place at the 3/4 pole to third position at the top of the stretch. He quickly gained ground to overpower a tiring To Honor And Serve and just caught longshot Shackleford at the wire. Finishing out the field behind third place To Honor And Serve was Flashpoint, Soldat, Arch Traveler, Stay Thirsty, and Bowman's Causeway.
Dialed In made it back-to-back Florida Derby wins for trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta, who joined forces to win last year's Florida Derby with Ice Box, the fast-closing second place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby. Zito's reaction this year was much different than last year. Last year he was still uncertain of Ice Box's future and whether or not he'd appear in the Kentucky Derby. This year, before and after Dialed In's victory, Zito was a bundle of nerves and emotions. After the race he said he hadn't been this emotional since Strike the Gold, whom Zito coached to a second place finish in the 1991 Florida Derby and a win in that year's Kentucky Derby. Zito has trained many fine horses, so that statement speaks volumes. Let me say this, I'm glad I made that 8-1 future wager on Dialed In back in March because he'll likely be much lower odds come Derby day.
Soldat and Stay Thirsty were disappointments, but I can't write them off completely. The change in running style for Soldat and change in equipment (blinkers added) for Stay Thirsty may have been their undoing. Neither did much throughout the race and just seemed to falter when asked to move. Still, I would have expected better than fifth and seventh place finishes out of the two.
Shackleford is a nice horse, but I don't think he's Derby caliber. He ran a terrific race Sunday, but he was loose on the lead like he's been in his previous wins, and if not for a strong closer like Dialed In, he would have won the race. Horses aren't often allowed to be loose on the lead in the Kentucky Derby, so if that is his golden spot, I'll take him in elongated sprints, not the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby.
With only a month to go before the Kentucky Derby, we have two preps scheduled this Saturday--the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park. As always, we'll take a look at the races on Friday.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby