Radiohead takes a shot in Florida Derby

The scenario laid out before Radiohead in Saturday's Florida Derby is hardly one trainer Rick Dutrow would describe as ideal.

A notorious stickler for giving his horses time between races, Dutrow hates that he has to face top company just three weeks after a big effort in his 3-year-old debut. If that weren't enough to make the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer a little edgy, Radiohead will also be making his run from outside post No. 11.

Despite all the negatives, the overwhelming positive ultimately won out for Dutrow.

By asking a little extra of Radiohead now, Dutrow hopes it will allow him to have a little extra in reserve when it matters most.

"I wish I had five weeks to be able to train him properly for his next race but, you know, there's pressure to get to (the Kentucky Derby) in six weeks — and going to the big race is what I love," Dutrow said. "Three weeks might cost us Saturday, but I know six weeks would be really good for the horse."

That ultimate goal of getting to the first Saturday in May has produced a wide-open field for this year's Florida Derby — and the English-bred Radiohead is as intriguing as any in the 11-horse bunch.

Though multiple Grade III winner Rule has been deemed the clear favorite in the race that has produced two of the last four Derby winners, Radiohead could stamp himself as a viable contender with a strong effort in what will be his second start of the year.

A Group II winner in England, Radiohead made his first six career starts on the turf for trainer Brian Meehan before a majority interest was sold in late October to IEAH Stables — the same connections of 2008 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, also a Dutrow-trainee.

Though Radiohead finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 7 for his new connections, he was beaten just 4 lengths in the contest after enduring a troubled trip.

Radiohead was then transferred to Dutrow's barn and, after giving the colt 30 days off and taking ample time to figure out his quirks, the longtime trainer was able to manifest the talent which originally inspired the purchase.

In his first start over a dirt surface, Radiohead smartly handled another top Dutrow protege in Homeboykris, beating the Grade I winner by 31/4 lengths after prompting the pace in a 1-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on Feb. 27.

"I think, he kind of needed to learn his way around here a little bit, you know?" Dutrow said. "Things were confusing to him and he kind of took it out on the riders. But he came around, got more confidence in himself, he started training good ... and he fired a big race.

"He ran such a big race off the bench ... I feel the three weeks has to cost him," Dutrow continued. "I have no idea what to expect from him coming up this weekend, but I hope he at least stands himself to get into the Derby."

Thanks to his victory in the Group II Norfolk Stakes and a runner-up outing in the Group I Middle Park Stakes last season, Radiohead likely has enough graded earnings to make it into the Kentucky Derby regardless of where he finishes in Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 race.

What Radiohead doesn't have is a win beyond a mile. And if he is going to ship to Churchill, his connections need to see evidence he can go the distance.

"We obviously would like to see that he can go two turns," said Michael Sherack, vice president of investor relations for IEAH Stables. "I think he is a gifted horse with some ability and I think he is pretty versatile.

"It's always exciting (having a horse on the Derby trail), that's why you're in the business. But you don't just want to show up at the races to say you're there. You want to have a shot... and he's taking a step up in quality this weekend."