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Kentucky Derby prep races offer plenty of intrigue

Three more Kentucky Derby prep races — the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby and the UAE Derby — will be run Saturday.

The Florida Derby favorite is Upstart (8-5), who drew a poor outside Post 9. Upstart last out ran first in the Fountain of Youth but was disqualified and placed second behind Itsaknockout (2-1).

Itsaknockout is part of an uncoupled Todd Pletcher entry that includes Materiality (7-2), who has won both of his career starts but will be tested for class Saturday.

A sleeper in the field could be Ami’s Flatter (8-1). He drew the rail, which is a real plus in two-turn routes at Gulfstream Park. Champion jockey Javier Castellano will ride him for the first time.

International Star (3-1), the favorite in the Louisiana Derby, also drew Post 9. Miguel Mena has ridden him to wins in the LeComte and Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. In the Risen Star, International Star started from Post 9, but Mena got him to the rail in a brilliant ride.

The race shape could be the story here. Horses such as Stanford (5-1), Mr. Z (4-1), Defondo (12-1) A Day in Paradise (12-1) and St. Joe Bay (10-1) like to be in or near the early lead.

The race really sets up for a closer. I like War Story (4-1), who was a fast closing second to International Star in the Risen Star. War Story gets top Southern California jockey Joe Talamo to ride.

The UAE Derby at Meydan has yet to yield a serious Kentucky Derby contender. This year could be different.

Mubtaahij (5-2), Sir Fever (3-1) and Golden Barows (4-1) appear to tower over this group. They have dirt resumes and pedigree to suggest the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance is within their scope.

The UAE Derby is also a Kentucky Derby point race. So if the favorites run to Hoyle, they will earn enough points to make the Churchill Downs field.

■ SHARED BELIEF BACK — Shared Belief will make his next start in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic on April 18, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Shared Belief is the top vote-getter in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association older horse poll. I’ll be curious to see who shows up to face him. His main rival has been California Chrome, who will race Saturday in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

■ SOUTH POINT CONTEST — The South Point will start a new weekly handicapping contest on April 3 called the Live Money Spring Fling.

The buy-in is $150, of which $100 is your live money bankroll. You make five wagers at designated tracks, $20 each race, betting win, place and/or exactas. You keep the money you win. Your final bankroll for the one day is a score for you going into the end of the contest standings.

Based upon the end of contest standings, the South Point will award one free entry for every 60 entries taken to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Qualifier. The BCBC Qualifier will be at the South Point on July 18.

Of the remaining $50, $25 will go for day prizes and $25 for the entries into the BCBC Qualifier. The winner of the qualifier will earn a berth into the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Keeneland on Oct. 30 and 31.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.

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