Andy Serling: A closer look at the Grade 1 Florida Derby
by Keith McCalmont
Watch the Florida Derby live on FS1
New York-bred Tiz the Law, winner of the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park, is the 6-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby and New York Racing Association Inc., (NYRA) analyst Andy Serling offers a closer look at the field ahead of the key Kentucky Derby qualifier from Gulfstream Park.
America's Day at the Races, presented by Runhappy, Claiborne Farm and America's Best Racing, will present live coverage of Saturday's lucrative Florida Derby card from 1:30 - 7:00 p.m. on FS1. Hosted by Greg Wolf, this weekend's broadcast team includes Serling, Gary Stevens, Michelle Yu, Laffit Pincay III, Tom Amoss, Acacia Courtney and Jonathon Kinchen.
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers. A full field of 12, with one also eligible, offers up five key contenders in Tiz the Law, Independence Hall, Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris and Ajaaweed.
"While the race drew an overflow field of 13, with one on the also-eligible list, it's very much a race with four major players, perhaps five if you foresee enough of a pace meltdown for Ajaaweed," said Serling.
Below is Andy Serling's closer look at the key contenders for the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Tiz the Law (Post 7 - Manny Franco - 6-5)
Tiz the Law was established as the 6-5 ML favorite. As good as he is - and make no mistake, he's the horse to beat - that price might end up being a bit lower than his ultimate odds. His tactical speed, while having the ability to comfortably rate, makes his talent hard to deny in this spot. Drawing inside of major players and speed horses Independence Hall and Ete Indien allows Tiz the Law to use his early speed both for position and to make those players work to get into their comfort zones. Expect Manny Franco to keep him off the rail and outside of horses in a good stalking position. If he effectively handles the nine furlongs - and his Holy Bull effort suggests that shouldn't be a problem - he should be in a great position and ultimately prove very much the one to beat.
Independence Hall (Post 9 - Joel Rosario - 9-2)
While Independence Hall was installed as the 9-2 third choice on the line, I would be surprised if he isn't the second choice. Distance is clearly a question for him, especially given that he will have to deal with the early lick of Ete Indien, but don't underestimate his Sam F. Davis performance. He chased a blistering pace, one that completely collapsed (save his effort), and in defeat he ran in many ways as well as he did in his brilliant Nashua win. Still, it's fair to question whether or not he can deal with the speed of (at least) Ete Indien, put that one away, and then hold off Tiz the Law as well as other possible closers. However, he's a tremendous talent and I believe you would be remiss to dismiss him from any multi-race plays.
Ete Indien (Post 12 - Florent Geroux - 4-1)
Ete Indien crushed the field in the Fountain of Youth, his last start. While it was a fast and visually impressive performance, it may have looked a bit better than it was given the general lack of effort by those behind him. Once again the draw does him no favors, and as brilliant as Florent Geroux has been at riding speed horses, particularly on this Triple Crown trail, at this point he may finally have a bit of a target on his back, and one would have to think the other riders will be more aggressive in keeping him from controlling this million-dollar Florida Derby. If he is going to wire this race it will take an even better effort than his last, and given the talented new shooters and the likelihood that his prior tactics will be harder to pull off. I am inclined to let him beat me. If he is forced to rate, it will be because of a fast pace and I am skeptical that he can pull it off under those circumstances as well.
Gouverneur Morris (Post 5 - John Velazquez - 8-1)
Gouverneur Morris is a new shooter coming off a five-horse field prep at Tampa Bay over the talented, but likely distance challenged, Untitled. While his 8-1 ML might be appealing, though I am skeptical that he is that high at post time, he really needs to improve to beat these. Arguably, his potential running style, which should allow him to rate, could be appealing given a likely competitive pace. His on-track performances don't suggest he can beat the likes of Tiz the Law, among others. If you like him, you are optimistic that he can improve in his second race off a layoff, and fourth career start. This is not an irrational opinion, especially coming from a Todd Pletcher 3-year-old on the (at least theoretical) Triple Crown trail. I'm just skeptical based on what I've seen as I feel like his name has drawn him more attention than perhaps his efforts deserve.
Ajaaweed (Post 6 - Luis Saez - 20-1)
Of the others, if Ajaaweed can get back to his Remsen where he was the lone horse to close into a moderate pace, and against the general speed-friendly flow of the track that day, I suppose he could be a price player for at least a piece, especially if you are expecting a pace meltdown. However, he got race dynamics dramatically in his favor in the Sam F. Davis and never ran a lick. Off that race, even second off a layoff, it's hard to have any confidence in him. As Seen on TV draws well inside, but simply doesn't seem good enough, and Candy Tycoon was a distant second in the Fountain of Youth mostly because of a great ride and trip, and the lack of effort from the others. His outside post, and tougher field, make any repeat of that finish unlikely.
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The always opinionated Serling has offered his handicapping insights on the NYRA circuit as a member of the broadcast team since 2008. Serling is a cornerstone of NYRA's flagship Live programs, Talking Horses and is the host of the Across the Board podcast, launched in April 2017. Previous to working in the racing industry, Serling traded options on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, sandwiched around a four-year stint playing the horses full-time in the mid-1990s. Fans can also follow Serling on Twitter @AndySerling where he offers insights for horseplayers daily.
The field for the Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby
HORSE / JOCKEY / TRAINER / ODDS
As Seen On TV / Paco Lopez / Kelly Breen / 12-1
Shivaree / Emisael Jaramillo / Ralph Nicks / 30-1
Disc Jockey / Tyler Gaffalione / Saffie Joseph, Jr. / 30-1
Soros / Edgar Prado / Gustavo Delgado / 30-1
Gouverneur Morris / John Velazquez / Todd Pletcher / 8-1
Ajaaweed / Luis Saez / Kiaran McLaughlin / 20-1
Tiz the Law / Manny Franco / Barclay Tagg / 6-5
My First Grammy / Hector Barrios / Amador Sanchez / 50-1
Independence Hall / Joel Rosario / Michael Trombetta / 9-2
Candy Tycoon / TBD / Todd Pletcher / 20-1
Sassy But Smart / Joe Bravo / Kendall Condie / 50-1
Ete Indien / Florent Geroux / Patrick Biancone / 4-1
Also Eligible: Rogue Element