A full field of 12 three-year-olds slouching towards Louisville on May’s first Saturday will battle for the lion’s share of the $1-million Florida Derby purse at 5:45 p.m. EDT on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
“We’re just looking for our horse to go out there and run his race,” trainer Rick Dutrow said. “If he can do that, I feel that they have us to beat.” Kent Desormeaux will ride the 3-1 early choice of linemaker Chuck Streva.
“I’d rather be outside than inside,” said IEAH Stable managing partner Michael Ivarone by telephone. “He’s got good tactical speed and Kent will get him out there in a good spot. If he runs his race, we’re confident.”
Peruvian wonder Tomcito is 12-1 for his American debut. He is a winner of four of five starts, including victories at the Kentucky Derby distance of 10 furlongs and the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes. The mile and a half Derby Nacional is a Group 1 event. The $7,500 Keeneland September yearling is trained by Dante Zanelli and will be ridden by a rejuvenated Jorge Chavez.
“Nick’s horse [Fierce Wind] is definitely the one to beat,” said Zanelli. “He has the experience and won his last three races. Big Brown is a horse to beat, but he has to prove himself the same way we have to prove ourselves.”
The Florida Derby is replete with talent but no established stars to match the accomplishments of divisional leading Pyro. Grade 1 Hopeful winner Majestic Warrior is making his second start at 3, beneath Rene Douglas, and is 15-1 on the early line for trainer Bill Mott.
In an HRI interview Wednesday, Mott expressed concern with the possibility of a wide draw. “You certainly don’t want to draw 11 or 12. There are a lot of other options and we don’t necessarily have to run Saturday.” Majestic Warrior drew post 10, so Mott may be mulling those options.
The final major contender is the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained Hey Byrn, third early-line choice at 5-1. The local hero won both starts at 3 over the Gulfstream strip by a combined 20-½ lengths, including his last at the Florida Derby distance. Jose Lezcano replaces Edgar Prado, who will be in Dubai Saturday to ride Benny The Bull and Diamond Stripes for Dutrow.
The draw certainly benefited Zito’s Fierce Wind, just as the rail helped his Cool Coal Man in the Fountain of Youth. A front-running winner in two of his last three starts, he showed a new off-the-pace dimension winning the Sam Davis. In a race loaded with mid-moving speed, Velasquez is certain to keep him in the fray from the outset.
Should the pace heat up dramatically, the major beneficiaries would be Majestic Warrior, who made a strong wide middle move before tiring in the Louisiana Derby, and Tomcito, who comes from the clouds the way the remarkable Venezuelan Canonero II did winning the 1971 Kentucky Derby.
This renewal of the Florida Derby is exciting because any one, or several, could jump up to the status of major Kentucky Derby contender. Given the race dynamics and a preliminary look at the past performances, it appears Elysium Fields will rule a slight post-time favorite, followed closely by Big Brown and Cool Coal Man.
In any case, the 57th Florida Derby is a great betting race in which the favorite should be no less than 4-1. If there ever was a race in which the post-time odds were fundamental to wagering success, it’s this one. The post draw assured that.