Fierceness Fantastic in Record-Setting Florida Derby Win

That’s what we’re talking about.

Fierceness flashed his championship form once again, blowing away the field with a fantastic gate-to-wire record-setting romp in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Next stop for Fierceness: Kentucky Derby

Breaking from an outside post in a field of nine 3-year-olds, Fierceness headed straight for the lead under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and won by a 13 1/2 lengths – smashing the previous mark of 9 ¾ lengths by Empire Maker in 2003.

Velazquez guided the 2-year-old champion through moderate fractions of 24.06 seconds for the first quarter, 47.50 for the half, and 1:11.31 for three-quarters. By then, it was all over as Fierceness was hand-ridden to the wire in a preview of what could come next in the $5 million Kentucky Derby (G1) in five weeks.

“That was a pretty awesome performance,’’ trainer Todd trainer Todd Pletcher said. “That’s what we see in the mornings when we breeze him, a special talent That’s why it was so perplexing his two races that he didn’t run brilliantly. He’s three times brilliant and two times has had off days.”

Fierceness Dominates Florida Derby: A Derby Tune-Up Triumph

A disappointing third in the Holy Bull (G3) on Feb. 3 in his 3-year-old debut, Fierceness has been all business since. He trained up to the race in strong fashion and was set for a big effort in what turned out to be a breeze of a Derby tune up.

Hades, who upset Fierceness in the Holy Bull, was never in contention and finished fifth. Catalytic, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., finished a distant second, with Grand Mo the First third, and Conquest Warrior fourth.

The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby carried Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-50-25-15-10 to the top five finishers – clinching a Derby spot for Fierceness (136 points) as well as Catalytic (50 points). Grand Mo the First now has 40 points and has a chance to make the Derby field limited to 20 starters.

Winning time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:48.22; Fierceness, the even-money favorite, returned $4.20 for a $2 win bet.

Pletcher’s Florida Derby Triumphs: A Prelude to Kentucky Glory

Since the first Florida Derby in 1952, 25 runners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby – the most of any Derby prep. Last year, Mage ran second in the Florida Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby.

Pletcher, an eight-time winner of the Florida Derby (seven in the last 11 runnings), won the race with Always Dreaming in 2017, who went on to win the Run for the Roses. He won last year’s edition with Forte, who was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby.

Fierceness, owned by Mike Repole, has had a roller-coaster career, winning in his debut by 11 lengths followed by a dismal seventh in the Champagne Stakes (G1). He then smoked the field by 6 ¼ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to clinch an Eclipse Award but opened his 3-year-old season with a dud in the Holy Bull.

“It’s surreal. I don’t know what to tell you,’’ Repole, who also owned Forte. “It’s not normal to do it once, [but] twice in back-to-back years to win this race and go in with the Kentucky Derby favorite? As you guys know from the past, a lot can happen from now to post time, but we saw something pretty special today.”

The biggest question is whether the son of City of Light can put two huge races together.

“As a horse trainer, you’re never confident until they cross the wire,’’ Pletcher said. “But it looked like he turned for home with a lot of energy, and it was just enjoying watching him go down the lane, and thinking, ‘Johnny, save me a little something for five weeks.’”

Hades was fifth (up t0 30 qualifying points), followed by Frankie’s Empire, Iris’s Dream, Real Macho, and Le Dom Bro. Bail Us Out and Seminole Chief were scratched.


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