Road to the Kentucky Derby – The Grade 1 Florida Derby – By Eric Solomon

15 previous winners of the Florida Derby have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, so this is always a race that is worth paying close attention to. Needles was the first in 1956 and Always Dreaming was the most recent winner in 2017. Maximum Security won this race before crossing the wire first in the Kentucky Derby in 2019, only to be disqualified. Tiz the Law won this race the following year and went on to win the Belmont in June, which was the first leg of the 2020 COVID Triple Series. 

This year, the current future book favorite, Forte, will be a heavy favorite in a race that is loaded with filler. He won his first race of the year when easily winning the Fountain of Youth on this course last month. He’s listed as 4-5 and will almost certainly go into the starting gate at lower odds than that. He drew a less than ideal post, but he’s significantly better than the majority of the runners in this race. 

Post time for this race, which will be the conclusion of a marathon 14 race card, is scheduled for 6:40 (ET). 

Gulfstream Park, Saturday 4/1/23, Race 14: The Grade 1 Florida Derby

200 Total Derby Points (100/40/30/20/10)

1 – Jungfrau (20-1 ML, 275-1 Circa): He broke his maiden on New Year’s Eve on this course in a race where he crossed the wire second, but was elevated to first. He shipped to Aqueduct where he faced six rivals in the Withers. He had a rough trip and was fighting Dylan Davis for a while. He was well-beaten that afternoon, finishing in a different zip code than the winner (Hit Show). He was bet down to 4-1 that day, and I do respect the fact that Mott has enough confidence to bring him back in a race like this. He’s well-bred and he’s drawn well along the rail for the race he wants to run. He could be a longshot that could sneak into the trifecta in a race like this. 


2 – West Coast Cowboy  (20-1 ML): He was last seen finishing third with a rail run in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes here in February, going off at 58-1. It was clearly his best career effort, but he’s going to take another large step forward to be in contention here. His half brother, Strike Hard, was 7th in this race last year, and I feel that’s a reasonable spot for him to finish in this year’s edition.


3 – Shaq Diesel (30-1 ML): He was a part of the sharp early fractions in the Risen Star Stakes last month at the Fair Grounds. He was one of the first to back out though, finishing 10th of 14 that afternoon. He seems like a horse that would be most effective at longer one turn races. He’s hard for me to get behind in this race. 


4 – Mage (10-1 ML, 90-1 Circa): I’m very interested in this lightly raced son of Good Magic. He came into the Fountain of Youth off a monstrous debut race at Gulfstream, going ⅞ of a mile. He was making his first start against winners, while routing for the first time. He broke a bit awkwardly as his back end appeared to hit the gate, allowing both Rocket Can and Cyclone Mischief to gain better position in a race that essentially starts on the first turn. He was forced to be five wide around the first turn. He remained in contention while three wide into the final turn. Forte rolled up on the outside with all of the momentum after sitting a much cozier trip. I’m doing so, things got tight for Mage, who was forced to check. He still finished with interest, about six lengths behind Forte and one length behind Cyclone Mischief. I was definitely more impressed with his effort, than the effort from Cyclone Mischief, and I think it’s a fair argument to make that he was the second best horse in that race. He paired his first two Beyers and now draws a  significantly better post than both Cyclone Mischief and Forte. I think he got a tremendous education that day and now he gets Luis Saez to ride. He’ll likely need a considerably better trip than Forte to beat him, however, I don’t think that’s a far-fetched scenario. He’s the fifth choice on the morning line, with all four shorter prices in the outside stall. I think he’s sitting on a big race here. 


5 – Mr. Peeks (30-1 ML): He’s a maiden, coming off a pair of respectable tries in sprint races to start his career. He has been transferred from Ian Wilkes’ barn to Saffie Joseph’s, where he is ambitiously placed for his first foray into stakes company. He was a private purchase by C2 Racing Stables (Who also privately purchased Nautical Star after his last race). The dam won all five of her career races on the turf at Canterbury and her first foal to race (a full sister to this colt) won her only race on the grass there too. I think he might be best served trying the grass here once the Championship Meet comes to an end. 


6 – Nautical Star (30-1 ML): The second new acquisition for this stable is coming to South Florida off a solid maiden win at Oaklawn last month. He was making his second career start in that six furlong contest where he came from off the pace to graduate. He’s also trained by Saffie Joseph, who is sending out four longshots in this race in an attempt to win this race for the second straight year after winning the 2022 edition with White Abarrio. It wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of his runners opted to scratch from this spot in favor of an easier race. However, like his stablemates, if he runs, he won’t be on my tickets. 


7 – Il Miracolo (30-1 ML): He’s danced a lot of dances on the Derby Trail, showing up as a longshot in the Remsen, Holy Bull, and Fountain of Youth. His best finish in that trio of races was his 5th place score in the Holy Bull two starts back, ten lengths behind the winner. He doesn’t seem to be progressing enough to make an impact with upper echelon in this race, 


8 – Mr. Ripple (30-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): the 4th of four runners from the Saffie Joseph barn is this son of Dialed In, looking for his second career victory. He set slow fractions in an allowance race at this distance last month, before throwing in the towel late. The winner of that race, Classic Catch, opted not to run in this spot against his much more accomplished stablemate. I prefer betting offspring of Dialed In in longer one turn races. If he couldn’t hold on last time against a significantly inferior bunch, I don’t see him having much of a chance with this group. 


9 – Cyclone Mischief (8-1 ML, 85-1 Circa): The third place finisher in the Fountain of Youth rebounded after a dismal try as the favorite in the Holy Bull Stakes. Despite breaking from post eight, he ended up getting a fairly easy trip on the front end, setting a reasonable half mile split in 47:3. When Gaffalione asked the question, he didn’t have a response as Forte powered by. He couldn’t hold on for second, and likely would have been 4th had Mage not been impeded. I still believe that his beat races will be longer one turn races and Gaffalione opting to ride Red Route One at Oaklawn today instead of him, feels like everything I need to know about his chances. I don’t like his draw and I’m not a believer in him today.


10 – Fort Bragg (5-1 ML, 110-1 Caesars): After watching the Sunland Park Derby last Sunday, I have to wonder if the connections have any regrets about scratching him out of that race and shipping him here, especially since he drew one of the more unfavorable post positions. There’s all sorts of stats being published about the difficulty of winning from an outside post in nine furlong dirt races here, since the track was reconfigured. 2 of 54 horses have won a race at this distance from post 9 out in the last five years. He was made the second choice on the morning line, coming in from Southern California after finishing 5th in the San Felipe last month. He broke his maiden in November at Santa Anita after being disqualified from his first win in his prior start. His two starts with graded stakes company were average at best. He certainly could move forward off that last race, but I’m not sure Joel Rosario is the right rider to try to navigate a difficult trip on this course. He’s struggled at this meet, winning only 9% of his races, which is a far cry from his 20% winning percentage in 2022. If the goal was getting to the Derby, I’d have to think that he had a better chance of winning in New Mexico, (especially after watching how that race played out), than finishing first or second here. He’s not for me in this race. 


11 – Forte (4-5 ML, 3-1 Circa): The two year old champion looked as good as advertised in his three year old debut, cementing his status as the favorite going into the Derby. Everything has gone according to plan and he was able to win with ease, despite having a pacesetter on a fairly easy lead in front of him. He had good setups in both the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup, so in some ways, his last win was even more impressive. I don’t have any concerns about the extra 1/16 of a mile, but I do think he’ll be a little farther off the pace than usual today. He doesn’t need to win this race to get into the Derby, so Irad Ortiz might be a little more free to take some extra chances to further his education going into a race like the Derby. Horses breaking from Post 11 or 12 are 0-14 in the last five years at this distance on this track. While that’s not a huge sample size, I do think that has some importance, even in a race where he looks like he towers over his rivals. Looking at his opposition on paper, he’s the most likely winner, but an improving horse with a dream trip could be the recipe to beat him here.


12 – Dubyuhnell (6-1 ML, 125-1 Circa): The third choice in the wagering on the morning line was the winner of the Grade 2 Remsen back in December. The weather was miserable that day and he relished the sloppy course. In fact, both of his wins came in the slop. His two efforts on fast tracks are not good, finishing 4th at Saratoga on debut (behind Instant Coffee) and finishing up the track in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. He didn’t have a great trip that day, but his effort was disappointing. He stays in Florida, opting to space out his starts, as opposed to trying one of the 50 point races last month. Even if he does a rain dance and gets an off track (which is not in the forecast at the time of publishing this), I don’t think he has the talent to overcome this draw. I’ll be siding against him here. 



The Verdict: 4-11-1


While I think it’s going to be very difficult to beat Forte (#11) in this race, I do think he could be a little bit vulnerable. I’m going to hope that Mage (#4) remains the 5th choice in the wagering, although I suspect he’ll be closer to second or third when all is said and done. I think he’s the only runner in the field that has a realistic chance of beating Forte. If he was able to work out a similar trip that Rocket Can or Cyclone Mischief (#9) had in the Fountain of Youth, I think the result would have been closer. I still think Forte was the best horse that day, but I don’t think he was 6 and ¾ lengths better. The tables are turned today as Mage has a much more advantageous post for the race that he wants to run. There’s a lot of filler in this race, and he should be in front of much of it, whereas Forte is going to have to work out a trip after breaking from a wide post. I think Mage is sitting on a better race in his third career start and could pull off an upset today. From a value standpoint, I think it’s also worth noting that if he were trained by a Todd Pletcher or Brad Cox, I think he’d be the second choice in the wagering on the morning line. I’m hoping that the fact that his trainer, Gustavo Delgado, is not a household name, will keep his odds a little higher than they should be. I’ll try him as the top pick, but these are the only two runners I’ll be using in the multi-race wagers.


My wagering strategy for the vertical exotics will be to key both Mage and Forte on top in the trifectas, while trying to hit a solid price underneath. I don’t care for Cyclone Mischief (#9), Fort Bragg (#10), or Dubyuhnell (#12) in this race. They all are flawed and they all have less than ideal posts for the nine furlong trip here at Gulfstream. Jungfrau (#1) will be the bomb that I think is the most likely runner to maybe blow this trifecta up a little bit. There’s not a lot to go off on his current form. His Withers try was abysmal, however, for a horseman like Bill Mott to enter this one in a spot like off a race like that, tells me that he’s doing everything right in the mornings. I trust Paco Lopez to secure a decent trip from the rail post here. While beating this field seems highly unlikely, I do believe he will rebound in this spot today. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to grab a small share of the pie at long odds. 


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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