HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Defer gets the chance to declare whether or not he's a Kentucky Derby contender today at Gulfstream Park.
The well-bred colt trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey could take a major step on the road to the Derby with a solid effort in the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes, one of five Grade II stakes on the program.
McGaughey is looking for significant improvement after Defer ran a dismal fourth -- nearly 7 lengths behind winner Proud Accolade -- in the Hutcheson Stakes Feb. 5.
"He's got to run a better race," said McGaughey, looking for his first Derby starter since Saarland ran 10th in 2002. "He's got to prove he can handle a mile-and-an-eighth, and he's got to prove he can run with the ones he's up against. Otherwise, we'll back up."
A winner in two of four career starts, Defer is a son of Danzig and is owned by Ogden Mills Phipps. The 3-year-old colt will be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, and faces a tough field that includes 5-2 early favorite High Fly and 4-1 second choice Bandini.
In another Derby prep, unbeaten Lost in the Fog is the 4-5 favorite over 10 rivals in the 7-furlong Swale Stakes. In stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Maddalena is the 6-5 choice for the Forward Gal and In The Gold is the 5-2 pick for the Bonnie Miss. Also, Eddington is the 9-5 favorite for the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
McGaughey simply wants to see if Defer -- winner of the 1 1/16th-mile Laurel Futurity at Pimlico in December -- can step up in a longer race. If so, then the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby May 7 could be in the cards.
"We want to get him around two turns," McGaughey said. "It should suit him. He's been training very well and he's going in there ready to go."
The field was reduced to 10 yesterday with trainer Kenny McPeek's decision to scratch Kansas City Boy and send him instead to the Louisiana Derby next Saturday. McPeek pulled the horse out because of an unfavorable inside post position, but still has Wild Desert for the race.
High Fly is the most recent Derby hopeful to enter trainer Nick Zito's barn. The colt won his first three starts convincingly.