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The Florida Derby: Making Champions since 1952

The Florida Derby; Making Champions since 1952: Throughout the years, one race stands out as a champion maker if not as the most important prep race for the Triple Crown campaign and, most importantly, for the Kentucky Derby. The Florida Derby was inaugurated in 1952, but before then, the Florida Derby was known as the Flamingo Stakes from 1926 to 1937. Since 1952, the Florida Derby has seen multiple champions come through its winner’s circle.

Florida Derby History

In 1978, Alydar won the Florida Derby before running into his rival, Affirmed, in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
Photo: Ebay

In 1955, Nashua won the Florida Derby on his way to a shocking second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby won by California invader Swaps. Nashua went on to win the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in addition to many more stakes races. Upon his retirement, Nashua had been honored with Eclipse Awards for Champion Two-Year-Old and Three-Year-Old of 1954 and 1955. He was also 1955 Horse of the Year. Nashua was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965. Sportswriter Bill Christine wrote that Nashua “belongs on that short list of the best horses never to have won the Kentucky Derby.”

In 1958, the Calumet-owned Tim Tam won the Florida Stakes in a series of races that took him to a victory in the Kentucky Derby. He went on to capture the Preakness Stakes as well. Ten years since Calumet’s Citation captured the Triple Crown, Tim Tam was said to have a strong chance to win the Triple Crown. However, in the homestretch of the Belmont Stakes, Tim Tam fractured a sesamoid bone and came home second. This injury ended his career but didn’t stop him from being awarded 1958 Champion Three-Year-Old. In 1985, Tim Tam was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

In 1964, one of the most famous North American racehorses, Northern Dancer, graced the Florida Derby winner’s’ circle. He won the Blue Grass afterwards before going on to win the Kentucky Derby in a record time that would stand until 1973 when the immortal Secretariat would run at Churchill Downs. Northern Dancer went on to win the Preakness Stakes. He finished third in the Belmont Stakes and then raced on to win the Queen’s Plate in Canada. Afterwards, Northern Dancer was retired due to soreness in his left front tendon. Northern Dancer kept earning awards well after his racing career. He was Champion Three-Year-Old in 1964, and he also earned Canadian Horse of the Year in 1964 and the Sovereign Award of 1963 Champion Two-Year-Old. In 1991, Northern Dancer was the leading broodmare sire in North America. He was also the leading sire in Europe and Ireland in 1970, 1977, 1983, and 1984. Northern Dancer went on to became a breed-shaping stallion, once even commanding a $1 million stud fee.

In 1978, Alydar won the Florida Derby before running into his rival, Affirmed, in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Alydar is still the only horse in history to finish second in all three races. Alydar went on to outperform Affirmed in the breeding shed, siring Kentucky Derby winners Easy Goer and Alysheba. He also sired Strike the Gold, Turkoman, and Criminal Type.

In 1979, Spectacular Bid nearly won the Triple Crown. Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby over General Assembly, and he was the last juvenile champion to win the Kentucky Derby until Street Sense accomplished the same feat in 2007. Spectacular Bid went on to win the Preakness in 1:54.2, which was faster than both Affirmed or Seattle Slew. It was also “faster” than Secretariat’s time until 2012 when his time was disputed and changed to 1:53. Heading into the Belmont and final stage of the Triple Crown, Spectacular Bid was claimed to be “a cinch.” However, Spectacular Bid lost the Belmont and finished third after an aggressive ride by Franklin. Spectacular Bid went on to an undefeated four-year-old season. In his three seasons on the track, Spectacular Bid was honored as Champion Two-Year-Old in 1978, Champion Three-Year-Old of 1979, Champion Older Horse of 1980, and Horse of the Year in 1980 and was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

In years past, horses such as Plugged Nickle (1980 Champion Sprinter), Unbridled (1990 Kentucky Derby), Holy Bull (1994 3YO Champion and Horse of the Year), Thunder Gulch (1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner), Monarchos (2001 Kentucky Derby winner), Empire Maker (2003 Belmont winner), and Barbaro (2006 Kentucky Derby winner) have won the Florida Derby and went on to either championship seasons, classic wins, or both.

The Florida Derby has not only been a significant preparation race for the Kentucky Derby, but it has also seemed to send horses into championships on the track or in the breeding shed. Unbridled became the only stallion to sire a winner of each Triple Crown race: Grindstone won the 1996 Kentucky Derby, Red Bullet won the 2000 Preakness Stakes, and Empire Maker won the 2003 Belmont Stakes. Empire Maker has had a worthy stallion career and has sired horses such as Royal Delta and Bodemeister.

This year, colts and geldings are searching for a win in the Florida Derby that may lead them to bigger and better races until retirement. The Florida Derby will be run March 28, 2015, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The race is worth 100 points to the winner and 40-20-10 to the next three finishers. A win in the Florida Derby is a guaranteed spot for a start in the Kentucky Derby.

Related Links:
Florida Derby 2015 Promises Unforgettable Race Day at Gulfstream Park
Looking at the 2015 Florida Derby Odds and Contenders with Casey

Besilu Stables Florida Derby 2015 Post Positions & Odds
Race #14 6:48 PM ET
1 Ami’s Flatter 8-1 Castellano/Carroll
2 Jack Tripp 8-1 Ortiz, Jr./Romans
3 Indianaughty 20-1 Lanerie/Romans
4 Itsaknockout 2-1 Saez/Pletcher
5 Quimet 20-1 Zayas/Zito
6 My Point Exactly 30-1 Leyva/Kaplan
7 Materiality 7-2 Velazquez/Pletcher
8 Dekabrist 30-1 Rios/Dorochenko
9 Upstart 8-5 Ortiz/Violette, Jr.
Picks: Upstart/Materiality/Ami’s Flatter/Itsaknockout

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