Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quality Road set for Florida Derby


Coglianese Photos

by Mike Curry

Quality Road might have slipped into the starting gate for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) under the radar, but he will have no such luxury on Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $750,000 Florida Derby (G1).

Quality Road shook free to a dominant 4 1/4-length romp in the Fountain of Youth to stamp himself a formidable contender on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).

After opening the year with a runner-up finish in a seven-furlong allowance race, the Elusive Quality colt stalked the pace from second in the Fountain of Youth, a one-turn mile. He powered effortlessly clear in the stretch at 5.50-to-1 odds in his stakes debut for trainer Jimmy Jerkens and owner-breeder Edward P. Evans.

Quality Road opened a few eyes with the Fountain of Youth performance, including those of four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle another highly regarded Florida Derby contender in undefeated Dunkirk. Pletcher also entered stablemate Europe as a pacesetter to ensure Quality Road is not allowed to dictate a leisurely pace.

Although Quality Road set the pace in his first two career starts, Jerkens said he has always been a “push-button” colt. Jerkens is more concerned with his ability to handle two turns for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby than the presence of a rabbit.

“It doesn't seem like it would be that big a difference, only an eighth of a mile farther, but the fact that it is two turns is certainly different. Some horses just, for some reason, don't seem to handle it the same way,” Jerkens said. “It's important that we run into the first turn in a composed manner that's relaxed and not where they are too rank, throwing their heads and getting all discombobulated.

“He seems to have a real good mind right now. So I’d be surprised if he didn’t handle it.”

To prepare him for his two-turn debut Jerkens, son of Racing Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, increased the distance of Quality Road’s final workout. He breezed seven furlongs on March 21 at Palm Meadows Training Center in 1:25.