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Friends Lake Makes Big Splash

Longshot pulls surprise in the Florida Derby. He might not race again until Kentucky Derby.

March 14, 2004|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Equine research made Gulliver-like strides Saturday. The 53rd running of the Florida Derby seemed to prove that not just any brand of music will soothe the thoroughbred beast.

Back in February, the often-unruly New York-bred Friends Lake heard Dave Mason in concert one day, the Beach Boys the next. Mason didn't do much for Friends Lake, who came unglued in the paddock next to the Gulfstream Park bandstand. But the surf music may have turned Friends Lake around.

"We wanted to expose him to everything to get him ready," trainer John Kimmel said of preparations for the Florida Derby. "I think he enjoyed the Beach Boys. The next day, he was like a dog on a leash."

Kimmel might lobby to book the Beach Boys into Louisville on Kentucky Derby eve, which is April 30. Friends Lake, who had run only four races in his life and had never won a stake, shocked almost everybody in the crowd of 25,505 at Gulfstream, winning the $1-million Florida Derby by three-quarters of a length as a 37-1 shot. While the time for 1 1/8 miles was lackluster, the payoff was boxcars -- Friends Lake's $76.80 win mutuel was the third-highest in the history of the race.

Now Kimmel may be asking Friends Lake to do even more. He's considering no more races for the well-bred colt until the Kentucky Derby. A horse hasn't gone straight from the Florida Derby to win the Kentucky Derby since Needles in 1956; a horse with only two starts as a 3-year-old hasn't won at Churchill since Sunny's Halo in 1983; and only two horses -- Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Grindstone in 1996 -- have won the Derby off only five career starts in the last 49 years.

"This horse will go a mile and a quarter," Kimmel said, referring to the Derby distance. "We thought he was a quality 2-year-old, and now he's had the chance to grow up."

Kimmel, 49, who was a practicing veterinarian for six years before he turned to training, reached into his pocket and produced $100 win and place tickets on his colt. They were worth $5,080.

"I've been dying to get a plasma TV set," Kimmel said.

While Friends Lake made for a kooky story, several also-rans in the Florida Derby were at least temporarily derailed in their march on Kentucky. Value Plus, unable to keep the lead after being half a length in front at the eighth pole, finished second; The Cliff's Edge, with a troubled trip, was third, another three-quarters of a length back; and Read The Footnotes, at even money, was punchless through the lane and came home fourth, beaten by four lengths. Tapit, a curious entry in that he was undefeated in two starts but was tackling nine furlongs off a four-month layoff, finished sixth among 10 horses.

The time was 1:51 1/5 for Friends Lake, who was named by his owners, Chester and Mary Broman, after a lake about 40 miles north of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Over fast tracks, only three Florida Derbies have been won in a slower time.

Richard Migliore, who rode Friends Lake to his third victory in five starts, had anxious moments before the start. An assistant starter used a lead shank on the colt's nose to urge him into the gate, and Friends Lake resisted. Several assistant starters were needed to load the horse.

"After he got in, he broke sharp," Migliore said. "I was pretty confident from about the half-mile pole, when he started pulling me. About the three-sixteenths, I opted to ease him out to the middle of the track to get clear. He's got that great big A.P. Indy stride."

A son of A.P. Indy, the 1992 horse of the year, and the stakes-winning mare Antespend, Friends Lake was sixth after six furlongs, moved into third by the head of the stretch and passed Value Plus with about 70 yards left.

Rick Violette, who trains Read The Footnotes, thought his colt had recovered from a draining victory in the Fountain of Youth a month ago, but he was mistaken.

"The Fountain of Youth got to him at the eighth pole," Violette said.

Although trainer Nick Zito failed to win the Florida Derby with The Cliff's Edge and a race later saw another of his Kentucky Derby contenders, Eurosilver, miss by a head against Wynn Dot Comma in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, he left Gulfstream sunnyside up. Wynn Dot Comma, not a Derby prospect, gave jockey Edgar Prado his 5,000th career victory.

"My goal is just to get The Cliff's Edge, Eurosilver and Birdstone in the starting gate at Churchill on May 1," Zito said. "The Cliff's Edge had trouble [getting outside] around the turn, but the race should help him."

Zito turned to Javier Castellano, Eurosilver's jockey, after the Swale and said: "This horse will win the Blue Grass [at Keeneland on April 10]."

Turning to reporters, Zito added: "Everybody's still even. We've still got time to go for the gusto."

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