Orb, Verrazano Lead Strong Contingent

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Gulfstream Park’s alumni historically have gone on to achieve great things on the Triple Crown trail, and the Class of 2013 is widely regarded as the most likely to succeed in the spring classics, most notably in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 4.

All of the important Derby rankings and polls show high expectations for several 3-year-olds that raced or trained at Gulfstream Park and its satellite training facility, Palm Meadows, during the 2012-2013 meeting.

Five of the top six point getters in Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby, the newly instituted qualifying system for the 20-horse field, raced at Gulfstream and/or trained at Palm Meadows. Five of the six top-ranked 3-year-olds listed in Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch are also Gulfstream/Palm Meadows alumni, as are the top four horses in Kentuckyderby.com’s Power Rankings.

Seven of the top eight vote getters in the NTRA’s 3-year-old Poll, topped by $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) winner Orb and undefeated Verrazano, raced at Gulfstream or trained at the Hallandale Beach track or Palm Meadows.

The Florida Derby has produced 21 Kentucky Derby champions, as well as the winners of 56 Triple Crown races. Orb, whom trainer Shug McGaughey also saddled for victories in an allowance race and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) during the Gulfstream meeting, is one of three participants from the Florida Derby that have qualified for the Run for the Roses. Orb is expected to be joined at Churchill by Itsmyluckyday, the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained winner of the $100,000 Gulfstream Derby and the $400,000 Holy Bull who finished second in the Florida Derby, and Frac Daddy, an off-the-board Florida Derby finisher who came back to finish second in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Verrazano, who is ranked just ahead of Orb in most polls, launched his most promising career at Gulfstream on Jan. 1 with a stunning 7 ¾-length victory, followed by a 16 ¼-length allowance triumph. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt went on to win the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and the Wood Memorial (G1) to tie Orb at the top of Churchill’s points standings with 150 points.

Verrazano is one of five Pletcher-trained horses expected to make it into the Kentucky Derby field, all of whom had been stabled at Palm Meadows. The son of More than Ready is expected to be joined by Revolutionary, the Withers (G3) and Louisiana Derby (G2) winner; Overanalyze, the Arkansas Derby (G1) victor; Palace Malice, the Blue Grass (G1) runner-up: and Charming Kitten, who all but clinched a Derby berth with his third-place finish in the Blue Grass.

The Blue Grass winner, Java’s War, had previously finished a fast closing second behind Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby. The son of War Pass was based at Gulfstream all winter along with Frac Daddy in trainer Ken McPeek’s stable.

Black Onyx also trained at Gulfstream before being moved to Palm Meadows and trainer Kelly Breen, who saddled the son of Rock Hard Ten for a turf allowance victory at Gulfstream before an upset win in the Spiral (G3) that gave him the points to run in the Derby.

Normandy Invasion and Falling Sky, who were both stabled at Palm Meadows, also traveled out of town to win sufficient points to make the Derby field. The Chad Brown-trained Normandy’s Invasion, who concluded a promising 2-year-old campaign with a second-place finish in the Remsen (G2), made a strong late run to finish a close second behind Verrazano in the Wood Memorial. John Terranova-trained Falling Sky won the Sam Davis (G3), finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby and fourth in the Arkansas Derby to virtually clinch a spot in the Derby field.

With so many Gulfstream/Palm Meadows alumni heading to Churchill Downs, Gulfstream’s leading jockeys will also make the Derby scene, including two-time champ Javier Castellano (Normandy Invasion), John Velazquez (Verrazano), Joel Rosario (Orb) and Elvis Trujillo (Itsmyluckyday).