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FROM GATE TO WIRE: Firenze Fire, Flameaway, McKinzie hot picks this weekend

Fred Hoffman and friend
Fred Hoffman and friend

This weekend there are three big prep races leading toward places in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, beginning with the Gotham Stakes in New York, going through Tampa Bay and finishing up on the West Coast at Santa Anita. All three races award 50 points to the winner, then 20-10-5. Around 40 points should get a horse into the Kentucky Derby.

The Gotham will feature Free Drop Billy, who scratched from last week's Fountain of Youth to take part in this running. He should be the top finisher, but Dial Operator is 2-for-2, though they were sprints, and Beautiful Shot has two wins and a third from last year. Firenze Fire is the most accomplished of these with five in-the-money finishes in his career. I kind of like Firenze Fire.

In the Florida race, Flameaway looks like a horse who may have some deep, deep ability which has just not been brought to the surface, and is my solid pick to take the Tampa feature. Enticed has been running with very good company, but I just don't like him here. Tiz Mischief has 90% in the money with a top Beyer figure of 81, so he along with Vino Rosso are worth noting. The later has a top Beyer of 90. World of Trouble is another who may be ready to explode, having won two of three with a 97 speed figure. Don't overlook Untamed Domain with five of six in-the-money.
The big race seems to be in California, where McKinzie takes his two-of-three wins, all of ratings over 100 Brisnet speeds, against Bolt d'Oro with a 3-for-4 record and a 105 speed rating according to Brisnet last time out. Kanthaka has a couple wins and is improving, and Lombo has won his last two.
Taking winners from the three races, I'd kind of go with Firenze Fire, Flameaway and McKinzie this week.
The Fountain of Youth probably produced three Kentucky Derby horses last week, with Promises Fulfilled, Strike Power and Good Magic all moving forward.

Top 21 prospects to date. I don't have a solid top runner yet, but it's still early. This week could change things.
1. McKinzie  (20) - won Sham with 98 Beyer
2. Bolt d'Oro (14) - third BC Juvenile, won Front Runner with 103 Beyer
3. Audible (10) - won Holy Bull with 99
4. Flameaway - won Sam Davis Good turf, any surface
5. Promise Fulfilled (52) won Fountain of Youth on front end
6. Good Magic (34) - ran evenly in Fountain of Youth, 2 yr. old champ
7. Catholic Boy (14) - probably not going to run till Floriday Derby
8. Free Drop Billy (14) - second Holy Bull
9. Firenze Fire (24) second in Withers behind Avery Island
10. World of Trouble (0) - only one loss with lots of speed
11. Bravazo (54) - won Risen Star
12. My Boy Jack (12) - won Southwest Stakes
13. Kanthaka (0) - won San Vicente
14. Instilled Regard (19) - fourth Risen Star, still can do better
15. Avery Island (14) - won Withers at 1-1/8 miles
16. Combatant (12) - second Southwest
17. Noble Indy (10) - third Risen Star
18. Snapper Sinclair (22) - second by nose in Risen Star
19. Strike Power (20) - second in Fountain of Youth
20. Enticed (13) - won Grade 2 Jockey Club last fall
21. Vino Vosso (2) - couple of very fast races early

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