Eleven With Kentucky Derby Aspirations Set For Florida Derby
Field Stretches Out To Nine Furlongs In The Sunshine State’s Final Derby Prep
by Margaret Ransom
Juddmonte Farm’s Hidden Scroll was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park and is one of 11 whose connections are hoping for the lion’s share of the Road to the Derby points, which are offered on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers, a top-two finish all but guaranteeing spot in the gate for the feature on the first Saturday in May under the twin spires.
Hidden Scroll, a son of Hard Spun who was bred by his owners, will lead the field to post in his third career start and his first since finishing fourth as the 6-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) a month ago. The Bill Mott trainee, who broke his maiden by 14 lengths on Pegasus World Cup Day back in January, will be ridden for the first time by Javier Castellano and may not be up on the pace engine like in his first two starts as he has trained to sit off of horses in his works at Payson Park over the past four weeks.
“I think this horse is fine behind horses,” Mott said. “He’s fine on the lead if the pace is such that he needs to be on the lead. That’s the rider’s decision. They have to make that choice when they leave the starting gate.”
Will Farish’s homebred Code of Honor is the morning line’s second choice at 3-1 thanks to his off-the-pace victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) on March 2. He is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who won this race with eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb in 2013, and previously finished second in last year’s Champagne Stakes (GI) and fourth in his sophomore debut in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes back in early January.
“I think I have a little bit more confidence because I was a little bit shook after the Mucho Macho Man,” McGaughey said. “I kind of changed my strategy and that worked, so I’ve kept on with it and I think he’s progressing the right way.”
The colt will break from post position nine and will have regular rider in Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable’s Bourbon War will aim to turn the tables on Code of Honor after his strong second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth last out. The Mark Hennig-trained colt had some trouble and raced wide into the stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. after closing from far back and was narrowly defeated before pulling away after the wire.
“The gallop-out – some people put emphasis on that, and some people don’t – I thought his gallop-out was much stronger than the rest of the field,” Hennig said. “It really gave us some confidence. I know Irad has a lot of confidence.
“His daily gallops, he’s putting a lot into them, which is great to see. He’s matured a lot. He’s eating tremendously right now. He’s a horse that’s needed to fill out and grown up as the spring comes on, and he’s doing that. Hopefully, that keeps going as we transition to the next town and he does as well as he’s done here.”
Ortiz has the return mount and the pair will break from post position four.
Gary and Mary West’s homebred Maximum Security makes his stakes debut in the Florida Derby of a record of three wins from three starts, including his maiden for a $16,000 tag and his last in allowance company at seven furlongs by 18 lengths. The Jason Servis-trained colt, who is a son of his owner/breeder’s Breeders’ Cup champ New Year’s Day, will most likely be part of the early pace scenario under jockey Luis Saez, who rides for the first time in his first route attempt.
“I’d like to see two horses head-and-head for the lead and him tucked in laying third about four lengths off of them,” Servis said. “I’ll leave it to Luis Saez. He’s a great rider.
“I thought he had some ability but I didn’t think he was this kind of horse, to be honest. I thought for ($16,000) he was well-spotted and he’d get the job done. I’m a big boy. He was in for a claiming price and we got lucky and he didn’t get claimed. Then I picked a couple of soft spots out for him where he was the heavy favorite and he easily won those. He’s three-for-three at Gulfstream, so we’ll see.”
Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) winner Harvey Wallbanger is back in his first start since that victory two months ago, where he upset the field to win by a length at odds of nearly 30-1. The Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman and Paul Braverman colorbearer is trained by Ken McPeek and is seeking his third consecutive victory, which includes the Holy Bull and his maiden score at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs in November.
The bay son of Congrats, who was a $50,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling, closed well back in Holy Bull to win by a length under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., who will be back aboard for the Florida Derby. The pair will break from post position six and have been assigned 15-1 morning line odds.
“The Holy Bull was a lot of fun,” Hernandez said. “We were a ways back – that’s his running style. The race set up for him. We had a lot of speed in front of us. I was liking my spot. I was able to sneak up the fence and turning for home when we were in contention, I thought he’d go on and finish it off, and he did. He ran on and ran a really big race.
“He came out of some good maiden races in Kentucky in the fall. When he was there for me in the Holy Bull the whole way, that’s what gives you confidence.”
In the first 67 runnings of the Florida Derby, 44 starters went on to capture 59 Triple Crown events, including 24 Kentucky Derbies, 19 Preakness Stakes and winners Belmont Stakes.
The Florida Derby will be the main and final race on Saturday’s 14-race program, which featuring seven stakes, four of which are graded graded. Post time for the Florida Derby has been set for 6:30 p.m. ET.
The weather in South Florida is expected to be beautiful and warm, but not too hot, with a high near 80 and partly cloudy skies.
The complete field for the 2019 Florida Derby:
1. Hidden Scroll, Javier Castellano, 5-2
2. Current, Manuel Franco, 15-
3. Harvey Wallbanger, Brian Hernandez Jr., 15-1
4. Bourbon War, Irad Ortiz Jr., 7-2
5. Everfast, Chris Landeros, 20-1
6. Hard Belle, Jose Batista, 50-1
7. Maximum Security, Luis Saez, 9-2
8. Bodexpress, Nik Juarez, 30-1
9. Code of Honor, John Velazquez, 3-1
10. Union’s Destiny, Leonel Reyes, 30-1
11. Garter and Tie, Jeffrey Sanchez, 15-1