Two contenders who generated significant buzz as 2-year-olds will take to the track Saturday afternoon as the road to the Kentucky Derby springs into a higher gear.
Three Kentucky Derby prep races, each worth 50 points to the winner, will unfold over a span of 22 minutes, with juvenile standouts Bolt d’Oro and Firenze Fire headlining the action.
The Grade II, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles begins Saturday’s lineup at 5:20 p.m. and will be followed by the Grade II, $400,000 San Felipe over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita at 5:30 p.m. and Aqueduct’s Grade III, $300,000 Gotham over 1 mile at 5:42 p.m.
The San Felipe features a showdown between Bolt d’Oro, who is making his 3-year-old debut, and undefeated Bob Baffert trainee McKinzie.
McKinzie, winner of all three of his career starts including the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity and Grade 3 Sham Stakes, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Bolt d’Oro also won his first three races including the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner before a third-place trip as the 3-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Mick Ruis trainee is the 2-1 second choice in a field of eight Saturday that also includes San Vicente winner Kanthaka at 4-1. Lombo and Ayacara, the 1-2 finishers in the Feb. 3 Robert B. Lewis, are back for the San Felipe as well.
Firenze Fire will be making his eighth career start in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. The winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park last October is the 5-2 second choice. Firenze Fire comes in with 24 Derby points, good for fourth place, having won the Jerome Stakes and finished second in the Withers.
Free Drop Billy, scratched out of last week’s Fountain of Youth Stakes by trainer Dale Romans, is the 9-5 favorite for the Gotham. Free Drop Billy is also a Grade 1 winner, having taken the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Keeneland. He ran second to Firenze Fire in the Sanford Stakes last July at Saratoga.
The nine-horse Gotham field also features 7-2 choice Entice, 8-1 Beautiful Shot and 10-1 Dial Operator.
Eleven horses are slated to go to post in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. The Mark Casse-trained Flameaway is the top pick at 3-1.
Flameaway has won five of his seven starts, including the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in February. Top challengers in the Tampa Bay Derby include Vino Rosso (4-1), World of Trouble (5-1), Untamed Domain (6-1).
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Vino Rosso, has won four of the past five Tampa Bay Derbys.
Derby prep schedule
5:20 p.m.: Tampa Bay Derby (TVG)
5:30 p.m.: San Felipe Stakes (TVG)
5:42 p.m.: Gotham Stakes (TVG)
Derby points leaders
52: Promises Fulfilled
34: Good Magic
24: Firenze Fire
22: Snapper Sinclair
20: McKinzie, Strike Power
19: Instilled Regard
14: Bolt d’Oro, Free Drop Billy, Solomini, Catholic Boy, Avery Island