One of the biggest pre-""Run for the Roses" racing events of the year takes place this weekend. The showcase at Gulfstream Park has been held since 1952, and its recent winners have been far from irrelevant, with three of the last five Florida Derby champs going on to win in Louisville, including 2017 winner Always Dreaming.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains 2018, the 9-5 morning-line favorite will be on a quest to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth career success in the 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep that will headline a card with seven stakes (five graded) worth $2.4 million in purses.
Pletcher, who has clinched his 15th consecutive Championship Meet training title, saddled Always Dreaming for a dominating five-length victory in last year's Florida Derby that was followed by a 2 ¾-length score in the Kentucky Derby (G1), which was won the previous year by Doug O'Neill-trained Florida Derby winner Nyquist.
The Florida Derby has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown events from 44 starters in the 66 runnings of Gulfstream's signature race for 3-year-olds.
The Florida Derby, which drew a field of nine 3-year-olds, will take on even more significance for handicappers and bettors in search of a life-changing score Saturday, when the 67th running of the historic Triple Crown prep is included in the six-race sequence (Races 9-14) for the Rainbow 6. A mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 carryover jackpot pool, which currently stands at $4.4 million, is scheduled for Saturday, and if Gulfstream's innovative wager continues to go unsolved Thursday and Friday, the total pool is expected to approach $20 million.
Guaranteed pools of $750,000 for the Late Pick 4 (Races 11-14) and $500,000 for the Late Pick 5 (Races 10-14) have also been scheduled.
First-race post time for the Florida Derby Day program is set for 11:30 a.m. Silks simulcast theater opens at 8.a.m. for Dubai World Cup Day simulcasts.
2018 Florida Derby Odds & Entries
Race 14 on Gulfstream Park's Saturday card with a Post Time of 6:36 PM
|1||Strike Power||4-1||Luis Saez||Mark Hennig|
|2||Millionaire Runner||50-1||Jose Batista||Jaime Mejia|
|3||Tip Sheet||30-1||Edgard Zayas||Stanley Gold|
|4||Promises Fulfilled||3-1||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans|
|5||Storm Runner||20-1||Tyler Gaffalione||Dale Romans|
|6||Catholic Boy||7-2||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Jonathan Thomas|
|7||Hofburg||20-1||Jose Ortiz||William Mott|
|8||Audible||9-5||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|9||Mississippi||12-1||Julien Leparoux||Mark Casse|
Audible, who pressed the pace before drawing off to 5 ½-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, fits the profile of many Florida Derby winners, said Pletcher.
"What he has that, over the years, has proven successful is enough tactical speed to put him in position. What was most impressive in the Holy Bull is how he kicked on after prompting solid fractions," said Pletcher, who has saddled Florida Derby winners Materiality (2015), Constitution (2014) and Scat Daddy (2007), as well as Always Dreaming. "He was able to find another gear."
After capturing a pair of one-turn mile race at Aqueduct to conclude his 2017 campaign, Audible made a highly successful transition to two-turn racing in the Holy Bull. The manner in which the son of Into Mischief captured the Holy Bull has given Pletcher confidence that 1 1/8 miles will be well within his scope Saturday.
"The way he finished at a mile and a sixteenth you wouldn't think a mile and an eighth would be an issue," Pletcher said. "He still has to go out and do it. If he can duplicate that performance it shouldn't be a problem."
John Velazquez, who rode Audible for a victory in a New York-bred maiden race at Aqueduct in November, replaces Javier Castellano aboard the Holy Bull winner, who drew Post Position No. 8.
There is no lack of speed for Audible to stalk early in the Florida Derby field, especially with the presence of Promised Fulfilled, who captured the March 3 Fountain of Youth (G2) with a dominating front-running performance. Trained by Dale Romans for Robert Baron, the son of Shackleford scored by 2 ¼ lengths over previously undefeated Strike Power and 4 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Good Magic, the 2017 juvenile Eclipse Award winner.
Promises Fulfilled has set the pace in each of his four lifetime starts, including back-to-back victories to launch his career and a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last year.
"He's just fast and he has great stamina to keep going. I wouldn't want to be someone trying to hook him," Romans said. "He can rate, but it's not a matter of rating. He's going to go to the lead. We're not changing anything now."
Robby Albarado, who was aboard for his first two career wins, returns to the saddle on the Kentucky-bred colt, who has been rated second in the morning line at 3-1 after drawing Post Positon No. 4.
Romans is also scheduled to saddle Storm Runner for a start in the Florida Derby after a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished seventh. Tyler Gaffalione has been named to ride he son of Get Stormy who previously won an optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream Feb. 4. Storm Runner, rated at 20-1, drew Post Position No. 5.
Courtlandt Farm's Strike Power is another Florida Derby entrant that is likely to ensure a lively pace Saturday. The son of Speightstown debuted Dec. 23 with a spectacular eighth-length score at Gulfstream, recording a rare 100-plus debut Beyer Speed Figure while setting the pace in the 5 ½-furlong maiden test. The Mark Hennig-trained-colt came right back to win the seven-furlong Swale (G3) in front-running fashion Feb. 3.
"We anticipated maybe a little bit of regression after the big maiden win. When horses run that big a figure in their first start, they need a little spacing, but where we're trying to get to, we didn't have the luxury of waiting forever," Hennig said. "While it would have been nice to wait a couple months before he ran, we wheeled him back in the Swale, which was a lot to ask of him. He handled that well."
Strike Power failed to get the lead in the Fountain of Youth, in which he chased Promises Fulfilled to the wire but finished 2 ¼ lengths ahead of heavily favored Good Magic.
"It was a natural progression going from seven-eighths to a mile and a sixteenth. I thought he handled it well," Hennig said. "The main thing I didn't want him to do was to get caught up in a speed duel and I thought he settled well. He settles well when you're trying to work with him. I don't know about rating in this spot. We'll see how he breaks and see what happens."
Strike Power was rated at 4-1 in the morning line after drawing the No. 1 Post Position. Luis Saez, who clinched his second straight Championship Meet title, has the return mount aboard Strike Power.
Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables and Siena Farm's Catholic Boy would be a likely beneficiary should a hotly contested early pace develop. The stretch-running son of More Than Ready has excelled on both turf and dirt while doing his best running late. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in July and winning the With Anticipation (G3) at Saratoga in August, the Jonathan Thomas-trained colt finished a troubled fourth in the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). He closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a dominating 4 ¾-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in his first start on dirt.
Catholic Boy finished second, a half-length behind front-running Flameaway, in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his 3-year-old debut.
"You're kind of hoping a prep would be a little bit easy but we ran into Flameaway, who was on point and ran huge," Thomas said. "I felt like we gave up a little bit of ground chasing a fast pace. We were pecking at the pace a little bit. He ran well, ran hard, got a lot out of it. The timing is perfect from that race to this race."
Irad Ortiz Jr. is set to ride Catholic Boy, rated third at 7-2.in the morning line after drawing Post Position No. 6 for the first time Saturday.
Mississippi is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the Florida Derby after being nosed ut by Storm Runner in a Feb. 4 optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream. In his previous start, the son of Pioneerof the Nile finished second in a Feb. 4 optional claiming allowance, three-quarters of a length behind Noble Indy, who went on to capture last Saturday's Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds.
The Mark Casse-trained colt, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux from Post Positon No. 9, was Fasig Tipton March sale at Gulfstream last year for $700,000 by John Oxley, M.V. Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Michael Jooste.
Juddmonte Farms' Hofburg, a son of Tapit who broke his maiden in front-running fashion in his 2018 debut for trainer Bill Mott at Gulfstream March 3; Arindel's Tip Sheet, who finished sixth in the Holy Bull after a wide trip; and Thoroughbred Champions Training Center's Millionaire Runner round out the field.
2018 Florida Derby Post-Position Draw Quotes
Co-owner Elliott Walden, President/CEO WinStar Farm (Audible, Post 8, 9-5): "With only nine horses in the race, it's fine. Obviously there was some discussion about the 11 or the 12 going a mile and an eighth here at Gulfstream Park, but he doesn't have to worry about that so I think everything else is good."
"He's doing very well. He looks happy. We were up at Palm Beach Downs yesterday and he's very bright, very alert. He's an average work horse but he's been that way his whole life. The other day he worked a half in 49 and one and I think [trainer] Todd [Pletcher] worked 30 horses a half-mile at Palm Beach that day, and he was third of 30. We were very pleased with how he worked and looking forward to Saturday."
Trainer Dale Romans (Promises Fulfilled, Post 4, 3-1; Storm Runner, Post 5, 20-1): "They're right next to each other in a perfect spot. I just like to have horses on both sides of my horses in the gate, that's the key for me. I'm happy with how they're both doing going into the race. I wouldn't run them if I wasn't."
Trainer Jonathan Thomas (Catholic Boy, Post 6, 7-2): "I think we're OK. I would have been worried if we'd have drawn any wider. Anything from where we were to inside I thought would be advantageous. All in all I think we're OK."
"He's really settled in well here. I'm glad we came when we did. He had a really nice breeze over the track and came out of it well, so we're happy."
"It's been a blessing to have the clients and support we have and ultimately to have the horses we get to work with. It's why we do the things we do."
Trainer Mark Hennig (Strike Power, Post 1, 4-1): "I think the post suits him well. He's got the right style to be in the one hole. He's certainly not going to get outrun by too many of them going into the turn so he'll sort out a good trip from there. I didn't want to be on the outside, because then we would have been forced to either sit or really gun so I think the post is perfect for him."
"If you'd have asked me when we were stretching from the Swale to the Fountain of Youth, I was probably a lot more concerned than I am today. I'm less concerned today than I was when they finished the Fountain of Youth because of the way the horse has trained in the last few weeks. I think he's growing, too. He may have had the look of more of a sprinter early on but he is changing. He's an April 24 foal and sometimes in the spring of the year with these 3-year-olds, magical things can happen."
Trainer Mark Casse (Mississippi, Post 9, 12-1): "The outside post is never a good post at Gulfstream, that's for sure, not going two turns. The good news the favorite is right next to us. He's training extremely well. You need some breaks and you need some luck, but he's doing very well."
Florida Derby Fun Facts
Most Wins by a Jockey
Four - John Velazquez (Quality Road, Orb, Materiality, Always Dreaming)
Most Wins by a Trainer
Four - Todd Pletcher (Scat Daddy, Constitution, Materiality, Always Dreaming)
Largest Win Margin
Empire Maker (2003) - 9 ¾ lengths
Gen. Duke (1957) - 1:46 4/5
Smallest Win Payoff
Spectacular Bid (1979) and Honest Pleasure (1976) - $2.10
Largest Win Payoff
Williamstown Kid (1966) - $183.60