Mandaloun's performance last week in the $1million Louisiana Derby at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans clearly demonstrates the unpredictable nature of horse racing.
The Brad Cox-trained colt entered the race as the clear favorite after his victory at the Risen Star Stakes at the same track a month earlier. His 52 total qualifying points were already enough to secure an invitation to the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
What could possibly go wrong?
The field in the Louisiana Derby was deep, but with the exception of the addition of Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun had previously handled all of his opponents. It appeared before the race that Mandaloun would add another win and gain significant momentum heading to Churchill Downs. However, somewhere between the betting window and the finish line, something went awry.
Instead of adding another 100 points to his total and $610,000 in winnings to Cox's impressive purse, Mandaloun finished out of the points, out of the betting payouts and was left with what was basically a $10,000 appearance fee for showing up at the starting gate. He made a brief challenge after starting in the sixth post position but faded from third at the half-mile pole to a sixth-place finish, 12 lengths behind winner Hot Rod Charlie.
That brings us to this weekend's $1million Florida Derby, where Greatest Honour will be a prohibitive favorite at Gulfstream Park. The winner of the 10-4-2-1 Holy Bull Stakes and more recently the 50-20-10-5 Fountain of Youth Stakes, both at Gulfstream, is positioned as one of the top horses to contend in the Triple Crown Series.
The Claude McGaughey III-trained colt, with the injury to and withdrawal of top contender Life Is Good, can potentially clinch the top spot in the qualifying points heading to the Kentucky Derby. All he has to do is deliver another win to sweep the Gulfstream trio of races and add to his current third-place points total of 60.
Florida Derby upset alert
As we saw in the Louisiana Derby, it may not be as easy as it looks. Greatest Honour has already solidified a spot in the Kentucky Derby, so it's not so clear that jockey Jose Ortiz, potentially on orders from his trainer, will have his horse running all out for a mile and 1/8th.
Bob Baffert's Spielberg, entering the race with 17 points, might be able to qualify with the 20 third-place points, but that total could still leave him on the outside looking in come the first Saturday in May.
The rest of the horses in the field are all desperate for points, needing a win or a second-place finish to get to Churchill Downs on May 1. Three already have accumulated some qualifying points, but Papetu's 11 is the most, with Nova Rags at four and Known Agenda with two. Also, if we've learned anything during this prep season, anything is possible.
Weyburn, at 76/1 odds, won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct before even being nominated for the Kentucky Derby. His owners had to pay a $6,000 late fee to register their horse to enter the race. The same was true of Helium, who came through to win the Tampa Bay Derby at 15/1 odds.
So when you're tearing up that betting slip on Greatest Honour on Saturday afternoon, don't say you weren't warned.