HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 28, 2021 – A live crowd estimated to be from 1,600-to-1,800 Thoroughbred fans came to Gulfstream Park to witness history and were not disappointed—even if it was a altered version than what was promised.
In the end, no horse has swept Gulfstream Park’s graded-stakes series of Building blocks toward the Triple Crown classics when odds-on Greatest Honour could muster no better than a one-paced show finish behind impressive late bloomer Known Agenda.
But it did see the meet’s leading trainer and 2021 Hall of Fame nominee Todd Pletcher win a record sixth Florida Derby, giving Irad Ortiz Jr. his 138th victory at the Championship Meet, more winners than any other rider in history, surpassing previous record holder, Luis Saez.
Saez was not here to see his record being eclipsed. He was halfway around to world where, at Meydan Race Course, he took the Dubai World Cup with the gifted Mystic Guide. Judging by both his starts at 4, this horse is the real deal and will be a major player in the handicap division.
Two other Derby qualifiers were run yesterday and certainly the two winners gained Derby-qualifying points, G2 UAE Derby victor Rebel’s Romance and G3 Jeff Ruby Stakes-winning Like the King.
The former was extremely impressive, the latter workmanlike. Rebel’s Romance, stablemate of Mystic Guide, gives Godolphin its third member in the Derby Top 20. In fact, if trips are the measure, then Ruby runnerup Sainthood was probably best in the Midwest.
Several horses distinguished themselves in South Florida. Show finisher Greatest Honour never got to the outside where he prefers to be, but had no real excuse in a flat performance, likely reacting to pairing-up big figures in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth.
The good news is he was going in the right direction at the finish. Of the winner and the runnerup, Jose Ortiz had this to say: “[Known Agenda] was the best horse today, but we’ll turn the tables on them on Derby day, that’s for sure.”
Well, alrighty then…
Runnerup Soup and Sandwich was very good but is light on experience. There’s always the Lexington if Mark Casse wants to get him another run, but that’s not really the trainer’s style. If Casse has to train him up to the mile and a quarter, it will be tough for a horse that remained on his left lead through the stretch. The talent is there; the timing might not be.
It was annoying to hear a TVG analyst describe Known Agenda as “a little inconsistent.” My past performances show a record of (3) 2-0-1 at nine furlongs, the only dual winner at the trip, in which eight of the 11 Derby horses had no experience at the trip—and only one with a victory over Greatest Honour. The upset focus went to prematurely-hyped Collaborate.
Here’s a little 411 for all who underestimated Known Agenda, though in their defense no one outside the barn or HRI knew the reason for his disappointing too-late Sam F Davis rally. The colt came back full of mucous after the race, nothing which was apparent pre-Davis. It’s hard to maintain early contact when unable to catch one’s breath.
As a consequence, he was 10th or 11th of 12 in the backstretch run, virtually losing all chance, but video did show him finishing like a wild horse too late for fifth, beaten only 3-1/4 lengths for place by Nova Rags, a very good pressed-throughout fourth on Saturday.
Further, all indications were that he has grown up in a hurry. Blinkers helped him focus as evidenced by an 11-length allowance score the on Fountain of Youth eve, his Florida Derby indicating that he indeed could eat some dirt and still continue forward. As above, timing is everything.
Pletcher won three races on the Florida Derby card, as did Bill Mott, but was unlucky not to add a fourth at Turfway Park. When the winning Like the King made his 6-path sweep into the stretch, he lugged in brushing the runnerup, Sainthood, the real damage done when the long-striding Mshawish colt was blind-switched for a few strides immediately thereafter.
Once Sainthood found a clear lane outside approaching midstretch, he roared home and would have nailed the winner in a few more jumps. Not bad for a recent maiden breaker in a short-stretch mile and a sixteenth lacking both nine furlong and Tapeta experience. Not all horses handle that transition, e.g., see race favorite Tarantino.
Godolphin, unlucky to miss last year’s Derby with star-crossed Metfield, have undefeated champion Essential Quality likely already in with 40 points and have Proxy, on the bubble now with 34 points but with 100-pointers remaining. Its best chance likely is Rebel’s Romance but trainer Charles Appleby didn’t seem excited by Derby prospects for his gelding.
Much of this remains academic, of course, with the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial on tap this weekend and the Arkansas Derby the week after, the latter featuring protem Derby favorite, Concert Tour.
BETS ‘N PIECES: Julien Leparoux was brilliant yesterday, winning two stakes, doling out sleepy fractions to steal the G2 Pan American turf marathon with nicely developing four year old Churn N’ Burn, to go with a last-jump score aboard War Like Goddess. To be fair, he should share part of the winner’s share of that purse with Irad Ortiz, who needlessly looked around twice in the final strides instead of staying on his belly with odds-on Always Shopping to the wire, the distraction very likely costing the connections a Grade 3 victory. Not to mention bettors in three horizontal pools. The public needs to be protected… Annex won his second straight listed stakes to remain undefeated at 3, a top turf prospect for Bill Mott. This is a very good colt and we’re looking forward to future summer battles with contemporary Colonel Liam. Speaking of turf prospects, Mott unleashed a first-timer, Colton’s Command, who looked a winner before reaching the half-mile pole. He owns an excellent turn of foot, Junior Alvarado riding with great confidence; stable mail please… Ken McPeek made it two straight Florida Oaks victories with Crazy Beautiful who was crazy good while drawing away in the final sixteenth and winning in full stride. The man continues to have his training ways with fillies… Kudos to Roger Attfield who had Gray’s Fable ready for his season’s debut in G3 Appleton, Alvarado again. Only annoying aspect watching this one is seeing how the normally aggressive Florida jockey colony allows early speed to get loose so easily on Gulfstream’s speed-favoring lawn… Basin showed some rust, and class, to win his season’s debut in his first start for Todd Pletcher. Expect forward progress next time… Speaking of surfaces, it appeared that both the turf and the main track, especially, could have used a little water to cut down on the prevailing cuppiness (read kickback) … The Rainbow 6 remains as popular as ever, with over $8 million in Saturday’s mandatory-pay pool, helping Gulfstream reach the $41.1 million handle plateau on the 14-race card.