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Soldat has Derby cash, looks for cachet in Florida Derby

In many ways, Soldat has what several of his fellow Kentucky Derby hopefuls are seeking to gain this time of year.

The son of War Front has racked up two wins over the 11⁄8-mile distance. He has triumphed over sloppy and fast surfaces, and his $510,000 in graded stakes earnings has the dark bay colt locked into the Derby field even if he doesn't collect another dime.

What Soldat doesn't have yet is a coveted Grade I win over some of the best of his generation. Kiaran McLaughlin's trainee could add that to his list of accolades Sunday as he was deemed the 9-to-5 morning-line favorite when post positions were drawn Thursday for the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park

Soldat will break from the rail in an eight-horse field that is being roundly hailed as the deepest, most talented assembly of sophomores on the Kentucky Derby trail this season.

In addition to Soldat, who stamped himself as a leading contender with his two-length win in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 26, the 11⁄8-mile Florida Derby features Holy Bull Stakes winner Dialed In, Gotham Stakes hero Stay Thirsty, the undefeated Flashpoint, and multiple graded stakes winner To Honor and Serve.

The Nick Zito-trained Dialed In was made the 2-to-1 second choice in the morning line and will break from post position No. 7. Flashpoint, the runaway winner of the Grade II Hutcheson, will break from the outside post No. 8 and is expected to contest the pace up front in his first start beyond seven furlongs.

Stay Thirsty is expected to wear blinkers for the first time and also has displayed early speed in the past, as has To Honor and Serve, who most recently was third in the Fountain of Youth.

Although Soldat earned his Fountain of Youth win and a 103/4-length score in an allowance race at Gulfstream earlier this year in front-running fashion, McLaughlin has maintained his stable's star doesn't need to set the pace to be at his best.

McLaughlin worked Soldat behind horses two weeks ago to try to get him used to taking dirt in his face, and he would like to see jockey Alan Garcia settle the colt behind rivals Sunday.

"This time there's quite a bit of speed," McLaughlin said. "We'll just play it by ear and (Alan) will make that decision (about being on the lead).

"I mean it would be nice not to think that we have to be on the lead, and we don't have to be. It would be nice if Sunday a couple of those horses went and there might be enough pace for us to lay third or fourth or even fifth this Sunday. But we'll just see how it shakes out."

Dialed In showed his precocity by winning the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes in just his second career start but was beaten last time out by 4-year-old stablemate Equestrio in a 11⁄8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on March 6.

Zito and Dialed In's owner Robert LaPenta teamed up to capture the Florida Derby last season with Ice Box, who went on to run second in the Kentucky Derby. Like Ice Box, Dialed In has a late-running style that could be ideal if his rivals set hot fractions up front.

"There's going to be plenty of speed I think up front," LaPenta said. "So it should be a very honest race and I think a very telling one for a lot of the participants."