Road to the Kentucky Derby: Florida Derby
The 70th running of the Florida Derby headlines a huge day of horse racing Saturday with 10 stakes races at Gulfstream Park. The $750,000 Florida Derby will provide the winner a spot in the starting gate for the May 1 Kentucky Derby. The Curlin Florida Derby, presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, is one of eight Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races that award 100 qualifying points to the winner.
Florida Derby favorite Greatest Honour won the first two Florida Derby prep races at Gulfstream this year — the Holy Bull in January and the Fountain of Youth as the even-money favorite in February. Both those races were contested at 1 1/16 miles.
The 1 1/8 mile Grade 1 Florida Derby has been run since 1952, and since 2013, it has been part of the official Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Since 1995, seven Florida Derby winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, the most of any Derby prep race over that time.
Last weekend, Hot Rod Charlie captured the Louisiana Derby to become the first 100-point winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. There are three more major prep races on March 27: the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in the UK.
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The Florida Derby is restricted to 3-year-olds, and the top four finishers receive Kentucky Derby qualifying points (100-40-20-10). Greatest Honour is the prohibitive favorite over 10 rivals, and he’s currently No. 3 on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard with 60 points, which is already enough to qualify for the Run for the Roses. Fifteen Florida Derby winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Saturday, March 27, 2021. Post, odds, jockey, trainer. Race 14 with post time 6:40 p.m. EST.
1 – Nova Rags (12-1)
- Jockey: Junior Alvarado
- Trainer: Bill Mott
2 – Quantum Leap (20-1)
- Jockey: M Vasquez
- Trainer: Ian Wilkes
3 – Jirafales (30-1)
- Jockey: Edgard Zayas
- Trainer: G Delgado
4 – Southern Passage (30-1)
- Jockey: Corey Lanerie
- Trainer: Dale Romans
5 – Known Agenda (5-1)
- Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
- Trainer: Todd Pletcher
6 – Sigiloso (30-1)
- Jockey: L Reyes
- Trainer: Antonio Sano
7 – Greatest Honour (6-5)
- Jockey: Jose Ortiz
- Trainer: Shug McGaughey III
8 – Soup and Sandwich (20-1)
- Jockey: John Velazquez
- Trainer: Mark Casse
9 – Collaborate (6-1)
- Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
- Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.
10 – Spielberg (4-1)
- Jockey: Javier Castellano
- Trainer: Bob Baffert
11 – Papetu (15-1)
- Jockey: E Jaramillo
- Trainer: Antonio Sano
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Florida Derby contenders and profiles, including Greatest Honour
Greatest Honour has won both the Fountain of Youth and Holy Bull since the end of January and has finished in the money in all six of his career starts. He’s an off-the-pace closer who faces stronger runners in this race and more colts with speed who can carry the distance. Greatest Honour has posted three straight triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures (ESF), including a best of 106 in his maiden win over this track in December. He’s trained by Shug McGaughey III, who won the 2013 Florida Derby with Orb. Back in November racing 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct, Greatest Honour finished second behind Todd Pletcher-trained Known Agenda.
Known Agenda was a nonfactor in his next two minor Derby preps, the Remsen and Sam F. Davis in early February, where he was the favorite in a field of 12 and finished fifth. But he improved sharply wearing blinkers, having won his Gulfstream debut a month ago by 11 lengths, and posted a 106 ESF in that 1 1/8 mile Allowance race. Known Agenda is sired by the Great Curlin, who was an 11-time winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic and Preakness champion. Curlin has had seven of 15 male 3-year-old stakes winners at distances from 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 miles. Pletcher has won four of the last seven editions of the Florida Derby and has won it five times overall.
Nova Rags finished a close second in the 1 1/16 mile Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, but his 89 speed figure needs to improve significantly from that race for him to have a shot against this group.
Runners with positive results in recent stakes are always noteworthy, and that makes Greatest Honour the one to beat. But note the improvement of others like Known Agenda and even Papetu, who finished third behind Greatest Honour in the Fountain of Youth after rallying from the very back early in the race. Jirafales finished much further back in fifth place in that race as a huge long shot and was also fifth in the Holy Bull. Quantum Leap is doing just that, going from maiden winner in his third start last month at 1 1/8 miles to the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Spielberg was a $1 million purchase and is being shipped west by trainer Bob Baffert. This will be his seventh graded stakes race already, and he’s finished in the money in four of those, with one victory. His well-beaten runner-up finish a month ago in the Southwest Stakes was to top Kentucky Derby contender Essential Quality.
Collaborate is a quickly improving colt who is the fastest out of the gate for this group. He won his last race by 12 lengths, breaking his maiden in his second try, and has come back with a pair of blistering workouts over the track for EPO trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Collaborate is a son of Into Mischief, who sired last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Authentic.
The Florida Derby is preceded in Race 12 by the $200,000 Gulfstream Oaks, which is a major prep race for the Kentucky Oaks awarding qualifying points (100-40-20-10). The Grade II race drew seven 3-year-old fillies, with Crazy Beautiful (5-2), Con Lima (3-1) and Millefeuille (7-2) the leading win contenders. All three need more points to move up the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard and qualify for the major race for 3-year-old fillies a day before the 2021 Kentucky Derby.