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Hot and not on the Derby trail

Union Rags (Hot … Sizzling Hot): He was magnificent in his coming out party Sunday at Gulfstream, winning the Fountain of Youth in jaw-dropping fashion. And as good as this performance was he should get better as trainer Michael Matz is clearly bringing him along to peak on Kentucky Derby Day. He figures to win the Florida Derby by a pole and then arrive at Churchill as one of the most hyped Derby contenders in years.

This is an exciting and gifted horse, and that's the only thing that worries me about him. When was the last time we saw the Racing Gods smile down on the game and reward the sport and this kind of horse with a Derby win? Something tells me he's going to run 12th and the race will be won by the South Dakota Derby winner who will go 0 for 22 thereafter.

Please, please, please let me be wrong on this one.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson (Not): Nice people, did everything right with Barbaro, but can someone please explain why they fired Matz? With his handling of Union Rags, Matz has proven once again that he is the consummate horseman and that you couldn't ask for a better trainer when it comes to the Derby trail. They made a boneheaded move.

Todd Pletcher (Not): Only Todd Pletcher could win a $300,000 Derby prep and yet have an awful weekend. Pletcher won Saturday's Risen Star with El Padrino, but even that was a modest disappointment. With all the hype, El Padrino was expected by many to romp. He won by just a nose.

Pletcher then had a wretched Sunday. Algorithms was knocked off the Derby trail due to an injury and Discreet Dancer was a poor third in the Fountain of Youth as the favorite, looking very much like a miler. Pletcher went from holding three aces in his hand to a jack high.

Adding Algorithms to a list that already included Eskendereya and Uncle Mo, this is the third straight year Pletcher has had the Derby favorite get hurt on him.

Gulfstream Park (Hot): Turning Gulfstream's main track into a mile-and-an-eighth oval was not a good idea because it took away the mile-and-a-sixteenth race. Trainers don't want to jump right into the nine-furlong distance with their Derby contenders.

But Gulfstream management came up with a solution, creating two finish lines that allowed them to card mile-and-a-sixteenth races. It's not a perfect solution, but it worked well enough. Even after Algorithms came out of the Fountain of Youth, they had a terrific race that featured the horse who will now be the hot Derby favorite.

And now it looks like they might get another big name for the Florida Derby in Alpha.

Javier Castellano (Not): You kind of have to feel bad for this guy because he just might have opted off the Kentucky Derby winner in Union Rags. Determined to ride the Pletcher bandwagon, he chose Algorithms over Union Rags. Obviously, it turned out to be a huge mistake, but that doesn't mean he didn't do the right thing. No jockey can afford to zig when Pletcher zags. That's how potent his stable is. At least he still has El Padrino.

Mark Valeski (Hot): Came into the Risen Star as the lesser half of the Larry Jones entry and a horse who had never gone beyond six furlongs. After battling El Padrino to the wire and losing by a nose, he has emerged as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.

Southern California Shippers (Hot): Every time a horse leaves Southern California for another spot they seem to win. The latest example was Isn't He Clever, who won the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park after finishing fifth in the Robert B. Lewis. He joins Secret Circle, Castaway and Daddy Nose Best, all of whom have won stakes out of town after competing in Southern California.

Anyone Playing Algorithms in the Future Wager (Not): How'd you like to be holding a ticket on this horse in the Future Wager at 12-1? Still another example of why this is a bad bet.

Hansen (Not): This poor horse can't get a break this year. First he stumbles at the start of the Holy Bull and then the NYRA stewards wouldn't let his owner paint him up in all sorts of bright colors. Now he draws post 12 for the Gotham, a huge disadvantage.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.