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Matz’s Florida entry is no sure thing

Times Staff Writer

It will be a surprise if trainer Michael Matz wins today’s $1-million Florida Derby for a second consecutive year.

Represented in 2006 by Barbaro, who won the Florida Derby to remain unbeaten and went on to glory in the Kentucky Derby five weeks later, Matz this year will send out 8-1 shot Chelokee against Fountain of Youth winner Scat Daddy, Stormello and six others in the Grade I today at Gulfstream Park.

A son of Cherokee Run owned by Centennial Farms, Chelokee will be making his stakes debut in the 1 1/8 -mile race, earning a chance by overcoming trouble to win an allowance at the same distance earlier in the month at Gulfstream.

“He’s getting better with every race,” Matz said of the colt who has won two of five. “Whether he’s at the top level or not remains to be seen, but that’s why we’re giving him an opportunity to try.”

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Ramon Dominguez, who began the weekend atop Aqueduct’s jockey standings, will be in to ride Chelokee. Dominguez has ridden the $240,000 yearling purchase once before, winning a maiden race by 13 1/4 lengths in October at Delaware Park.

The 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Florida Derby is Scat Daddy, a nose winner over Stormello in the Fountain of Youth four weeks ago.

Owned by Al Eisman and trainer Bill Currin, Stormello is making a second trip to Florida from his California home, a surprising move, considering that Stormello won two graded races locally in 2006 and would have been a solid favorite had he stayed for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby a week from today.

Currin chose the more difficult path, saying the best way to have success in the Kentucky Derby is to pick tougher spots on the road to Churchill Downs.

“I’m not really looking to duck anybody,” he said. “I have one objective and that is to win the Kentucky Derby and you’re not going to win the Kentucky Derby by picking and choosing soft spots.

“Once you get through racing, you have to go to ... the breeding shed and I purposely went to Florida for two reasons. One, to hope to knock off Nobiz Like Shobiz [who was fourth in the Fountain of Youth], and we did. Secondly, I wanted to expose this colt to the breeders in Kentucky.”

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Neko Bay, a 4-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway who has won three of four starts, will seek his first graded stakes victory today in the $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap at Santa Anita.

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Owned by breeders Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, Neko Bay will have five foes in the Grade III at 1 1/8 miles. Neko Bay, who will leave from the rail and will be ridden for the first time by Aaron Gryder, suffered his only loss the last time he ran nine furlongs. He was second to Blazing Sunset in the Alydar last May at Hollywood Park.

The 117-pound high weight in the Tokyo City is Preachinatthebar, a 6-year-old Silver Charm horse who has won nine of 31 and nearly $830,000 for owner-breeder Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert.

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bob.mieszerski@latimes.com

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