Tampa Bay Derby, Holy Bull Winners Square off in Florida Derby
This year marks the 71st running of the Florida Derby (G1), the Sunshine State’s most important prep for the Kentucky Derby (GI), which will be held again for the 148th time at Churchill Downs in Louisville on first Saturday in May. This year the race is again sponsored by classic winner, 2007 Horse of the Year and standout sire Curlin, who stants at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa in Lexington, Kentucky.
The nine-furlong race returns to its previous value of $1 million after a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but most importantly, perhaps, is that the race offers Road to the Derby qualifying points on a scale of 100-40-20-10 to the top-four finishers, which guarantees the winner – and quite probably the runner-up – a spot in the starting gate under the Twin Spires in five weeks.
Since it was first contested in 1952, the Florida Derby has consistently drawn what amounts to the best sophomores with Derby aspirations in training on the East Coast. The race was originally run in early to mid-March, but was moved to five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby in 2005, and while at first the long break between the Florida Derby and the Run for the Roses was considered lengthy, since then runners like Barbaro, Big Brown, Orb, Nyquist, Always Dreaming and Maximum Security (before his Derby DQ) successfully completed the double Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby double.
Overall, fourteen Florida Derby winners won in Kentucky – Needles (1956), Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Spectacular Bid (1979), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016) and Always Dreaming (2017). Two more would be on that list had they not been disqualified in Kentucky – Dancer’s Image for a post-race medication positive in 1968 and Maximum Security for his right turn at the quarter pole in 2019.
Additionally, a number of other Florida Derby winners went on to win the Preakness and/or Belmont Stakes. And since 2000 alone, the Florida Derby has produced five Kentucky Derby winners from a total of 43 runners, which is the most winners for any of the major prep races even though it hasn’t been represented by most starters in Louisville.
Two years ago, New York-bred Tiz The Law took home the win before going on to win the Belmont Stakes and then finish second in the Derby in the reorganized Triple Crown series. And in 2019 the aforementioned Maximum Security burst onto the racing scene with his dominant 3 ½-length Florida Derby win before taking all of us on the wildest, wackiest ride starting with his Kentucky Derby win and then disqualification, a scary bout of colic, a trip to the middle East to win the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup and the subsequent indictment and arrest of his trainer for allegedly drugging him, as well as several of his stablemates. Maximum Security might be the most well-known Florida Derby but not for his racing record. Last year, Known Agenda won this race before finishing ninth in Kentucky and ending his career with a fourth in the Belmont Stakes. He is currently standing his first season at stud at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled six Florida Derby winners to lead all trainers (2007, Scat Daddy; 2014, Constitution; 2015, Materiality; 2017, Always Dreaming; 2018, Audible; and Known Agenda, 2021) and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has ridden five to be the top jockey (2009, Quality Road; 2013, Orb; 2015, Materiality; 2017, Always Dreaming; and 2018, Audible), three of those victories coming aboard Pletcher’s horses. The old Calumet Farm regime of Gene and Lucille Markey remain the race’s top owners, having their devil’s red and blue silks worn by five runners.
Other names of past Florida Derby winners even the casual racing fan would recognize include Nashua, Carry Back, In Reality, Honest Pleasure, Alydar, Snow Chief, Holy Bull, Unbridled’s Song, Monarchos and Empire Maker.
Eleven are expected to head postward in the day’s feature on Saturday, which has been carded as the 14th with a post time of 6:40 p.m. ET. The weather in Hallandale is supposed to be very warm and about 80 with a chance for rain increasing as the day progresses, so an off track by post time for this race is possible.
The field, in post position order with jockeys, riders and morning line odds, is:
1. Strike Hard, Junior Alvarado, Matthew Williams, 20-1
Flashback—Coco’s Sweetie, by Tenpins
2. Classic Causeway, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Brian Lynch, 7-2
Giant’s Causeway—Private World, by Thunder Gulch
3. Simplification, Jose Ortiz, Antonio Sano, 5-2
Not This Time—Simply Confection, by Candy Ride (Arg)
4. King of Truth. Jose Morelos, Amador Sanchez, 50-1
Into Mischief—Oatsee, by Unbridled
5. Pappacap, Edwin Gonzalez, Mark Casse, 10-1
Gun Runner—Pappascat, by Scat Daddy
6. Charge It, Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher, 7-2
Tapit—I’ll Take Charge, by Indian Charlie
7. Whote Abarrio, Tyler Gaffalione, Saffie Joseph, Jr., 3-1
Race Day—Catching Diamonds, by Into Mischief
8. Cajun’s Magic, Jesus Rios, Michael Yates, 30-1
Cajun Breeze—Mollie’s Magic, by Factum
9. O Captain, Joel Rosario, Gustavo Delgado, 20-1
Carpe Diem–Mama Nadine, by A.P. Indy
10. Clapton, Emisael Jaramillo, Juan Alvarado, 30-1
Brethren—Alexandra Rylee, by Afleet Alex
11. Steal Sunshine, Leonel Reyes, Bobby Dibona, 30-1
Constitution—Warm Sunshine, by Unbridled’s Song