HALLANDALE, Fla. — California doesn't have a corner on 3-year-old fillies good enough to run against colts. Florida-based Three Ring, who beat fillies by 14 3/4 lengths in her last race, is the 5-1 third choice on the morning line for Saturday's $750,000 Florida Derby, although trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. may not run her.
But if Three Ring does run Saturday at Gulfstream Park, she would make this year's preliminaries to the Kentucky Derby even more intriguing. California alone is making this one of the most promising seasons in years for 3-year-old fillies. Trainer Bobby Frankel ran Honest Lady against the boys in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, and even though she finished fifth, that was only one length behind winner Desert Hero. Honest Lady will get another chance April 3 in the Santa Anita Derby.
Trainer Bob Baffert is running two exceptional fillies this weekend, 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Silverbulletday in Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans and Excellent Meeting in Sunday's Santa Anita Oaks. The Santa Anita Derby is on Excellent Meeting's tentative schedule.
Enter Three Ring, who ran third behind Silverbulletday and Excellent Meeting in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Churchill Downs. Three Ring ran second, beaten by a neck, in her 1999 debut, but then three weeks ago at Gulfstream she wore blinkers for the first time and pulled away from the field in the Davona Dale Stakes. Students of time gave her a higher rating than Vicar, who won the Fountain of Youth Stakes the day before.
Plesa was ready to run Three Ring against favored Vicar in the Florida Derby, but he's having second thoughts after the filly drew the No. 10 post in an 11-horse field. Three Ring likes to run fast early, and getting position in a big field would be problematic for jockey John Velazquez.
"I don't know if we're going to run," Plesa said late Wednesday. "I'm not crazy about the post. Right now I'm leaning against it. I wouldn't want to mess her up for the sake of one race. I'm not scared of the boys, and this is from someone who's not known as a boastful person. My filly's made the transition from 2-year-old to 3-year-old in great shape."
The best run by a filly in the Florida Derby was Cicada's loss by a nose to Ridan in 1962. If Three Ring doesn't run Saturday, she'll remain in her own division and go in the Bonnie Miss Stakes next Tuesday.
Field for Saturday's Florida Derby, in post-position order, with jockeys and morning line:
* Valid Trefaire, Jose Santos: 15-1
* Cat Thief, Pat Day: 4-1
* Certain, Kent Desormeaux: 6-1
* Adonis, Jorge Chavez: 10-1
* Vicar, Shane Sellers: 3-1
* Casanova Star, Mike Smith: 20-1
* Wondertross, Jerry Bailey: 8-1
* Grits'n Hard Toast, Robbie Davis: 8-1
* First American, Jose Velez: 20-1
* Three Ring, John Velazquez: 5-1
* Aly's Alley, Edgar Prado: 15-1