The Florida Derby (G1) will be run for the 72nd 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 149th time at Churchill Downs in Louisville in five weeks. It is a landmark year in many ways as 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the great Secretariat’s Derby and the year he earned legend status with his Triple Crown and still record-holding Belmont Stakes score.
Champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Forte is the early 4-5 favorite but will likely be lower at post time, his accomplishments towering over the rest of the field who will line up next to him in the gate.
The nine-furlong race returns to its previous value of $1 million again after a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but most importantly, perhaps, is that the race offers Road to the Derby qualifying points on a scale 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 under the Twin Spires.
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 Derby highly debated 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.
A number of 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 47 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.
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. Last year, C2 Racing Stable’s White Abarrio was victorious, but struggled in Louisville and finished 16th in the Run for the Roses.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled six Florida Derby winners to lead all trainers (2007, Scat Daddy; 2014, Constitution; 2015, Materiality; 2017, Always Dreaming; 2018, Audible; and Known Agenda, 2021) 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.
Pletcher seeks a seventh Florida Derby winner with Forte, the handy winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on March 4. Irad Ortiz won the 2021 Florida Derby aboard Known Agenda.
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.
A field of 12 is expected to head to the gate. Post time is 6:40 p.m. EDT.
The field, in post position order with jockeys, riders and morning line odds, is:
1. 20-1 Jungfrau, Paco Lopez, Bill Mott
Arrogate – South Bank, by Tapit
2. 20-1 West Coast Cowboy, Sonny Leon, Saffie Joseph, Jr.
West Coast – Coco’s Sweetie, by Tenpins
3. 30-1 Shaq Diesel, Miguel Vasquez, Renaldo Richards
Khozan – Kleodora, by Tiznow
4. 10-1 Mage, Luis Saez, Gustavo Delgado
Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown
5. 30-1 Mr. Peeks, Edwin Gonzalez, Saffie Joseph, Jr.
California Chrome – Ms. Bubbette, by Tiz Wonderful
6. 30-1 Nautical Star, L. Reyes, Saffie Joseph, Jr.
Dixie Chatter – Kiss Me Chocolate, by Evansville Slew
7. 30-1 Il Miracolo, Jesus Rios, Antonio Sano,
Gun Runner – Tapit’s World, by Tapit
8. 30-1 Mr. Ripple, Edgard Zayas, Saffie Joseph, Jr.
Dialed In – Palace Pier, by Out of Place
9. 8-1 Cyclone Mischief, Javier Castellano, Dale Romans
Into Mischief – Areyoucominghere, by Bernardini
10. 5-1 Fort Bragg, Joel Rosario, Tim Yakteen
Tapit – March X Press, by Shanghai Bobby
11. 4-5 Forte, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Todd Pletcher
Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame
12. 6-1 Dubyuhnell, Jose Ortiz, Danny Gargan
Good Magic – Wild Gams, by Forest Wildcat