Last Derby Prep in the Sunshine State Owns a Rich History

The Florida Derby (G1) will be run for the 73rd time this year and the 1 1/8-mile race still ranks as the Sunshine State’s most important prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1), which will be held again for the 150th time at Churchill Downs in Louisville in five weeks.

Gulfstream Park – Photo courtesy of Joe DiOrio / BloodHorse

The nine-furlong race, which is sponsored by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, offers Road to the Derby qualifying points on a scale of 100-50-20-15-10 to the top-five finishers, which guarantees the winner – and quite probably the runner-up – a spot in the starting gate under the Twin Spires.

Florida Derby: Paving the Road to Kentucky Derby Greatness

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 highly debated Derby disqualification) 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.

Also A number of other Florida Derby winners went on to win the Preakness and/or Belmont Stakes.

Florida Derby Victors: From Glory to Controversy

Tiz The Law Horse

Tiz the Law

In 2020, 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 all the wrong reasons.

Known Agenda won this race before finishing ninth in Kentucky in 2021 and ended his career with a fourth in the Belmont Stakes. In 2022, C2 Racing Stable’s White Abarrio was victorious, but struggled in Louisville and finished 16th in the Run for the Roses. He won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), however.


Champion Horses and Racing Royalty: A Glance Back in Time

Last year champion Forte took home the Florida Derby trophy and was headed into the Kentucky Derby as the favorite before a foot issue caused a late scratch the day before the race.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled seven Florida Derby winners to lead all trainers (2007, Scat Daddy; 2014, Constitution; 2015, Materiality; 2017, Always Dreaming; 2018, Audible; Known Agenda, 2021; and Forte, 2023) 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.

The race is the day’s 14th with an expected post time is 6:42 p.m. EDT.


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