By Margaret Ransom
This year marks the 70th running of the Florida Derby (G1), the Sunshine State’s most important prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1), which is set to be held in its regular spot on the first Saturday in May after last year’s COVID-19 related four-month delay.
This year, Saturday’s Florida Derby carries the sponsorship of Curlin and Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa located in Lexington, Kentucky.
The 1 1/8-mile race offers a purse of $750,000, down from $1 million two years ago. Most importantly, perhaps, is that the race offers Derby qualifying points 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 at Churchill Downs.
Holy Bull (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Greatest Honour is the 6-5 favorite in a field of 11, with California invader Spielberg the second choice at 4-1.
Since it was first contested in 1952, the Florida Derby has consistently drawn what amounts to the best sophomores with Derby aspirations from 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 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.
Overall, 14 Florida Derby winners also 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, several 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 41 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.
A year 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, 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.
He may be eventually considered the most well-known Florida Derby winner, but unfortunately not for his racing record.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled five Florida Derby winners to lead all trainers (2007, Scat Daddy; 2014, Constitution; 2015, Materiality; 2017, Always Dreaming; and 2018, Audible) 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 stakes 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.
The Florida Derby is the 14th race on the card with a post time of 6:40 p.m. ET. The weather in Hallandale Beach is supposed to be very warm and about 85 degrees under partly cloudy skies, so a fast track is probable all day.
Florida Derby Odds
The field, in post-position order, with jockey, trainer and odds:
- Nova Rags (Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott) 12-1
Union Rags—Wishful Splendor, by Smart Strike
- Quantum Leap (Miguel Vasquez, Ian Wilkes) 20-1
Pioneerof the Nile—Grand Glory, by Distorted Humor
- Jirafales (Edgard Zayas, Gustavo Delgado) 30-1
Social Inclusion—Gran Pashita, by Horse Chestnut
- Southern Passage (Corey Lanerie, Dale Romans) 30-1
Super Saver—Almudena, by Silver Planet
- Known Agenda (Irad. Ortiz, Jr., Todd Pletcher) 5-1
Curlin—Byrama (GB), by Byron (GB)
- Sigiloso (Leonel Reyes, Antonio Sano) 30-1
Khozan—Ginablu, by Bluegrass Cat
- Greatest Honour (Jose Ortiz, Shug McGaughey) 6-5
Tapit—Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry
- Soup and Sandwich (John Velazquez, Mark Casse) 20-1
Into Mischief—Souper Scoop, by Tapit
- Collaborate (Tyler Gaffalione, Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 6-1
Into Mischief—Quiet Temper, by Quiet American
- Spielberg (Javier Castellano, Bob Baffert) 4-1
Union Rags—Miss Squeal, by Smart Strike
- Papetu (Emisael Jaramillo, Antonio Sano) 15-1
Dialed In—Lady Malkin, by Sharp Humor
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.