Saturday’s Florida Derby (G1) attracted a fine field of accomplished runners, including many with stakes experience, and only one of nine contestants was making their first start against winners. And given the last-out maiden winner toppled all but one foe while finishing more than seven lengths clear of the rest, it’s time to take notice of HOFBURG.
The Juddmonte homebred didn’t turn out to be a surprise for bettors who backed Hofburg to 8-1 odds despite making just his third lifetime try for conditioner Bill Mott. Tracking from near the back for much of the Florida Derby, the chestnut colt gained big momentum approaching the turn for home and proved to be the lone runner within striking distance of the superb Audible in the final furlong.
It could be debated that Hofburg simply exposed some distance-challenged foes at Gulfstream. And one could also argue he fell into a dream pace setup, making his runner-up showing look better than it actually was.
But I consider Hofburg to be the third sophomore to explode onto the three-year-old scene this season, following unbeaten dynamos Justify and Magnum Moon. But unlike those lightly-raced rivals, Hofburg won’t be trying to overcome a 136-year unraced juvenile streak, having made one start last year at Saratoga.
He currently ranks 14th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points, which should be enough for the starting gate on May 5.
Hofburg is a half-brother to the Empire Maker filly Emollient. Also trained by Bill Mott, Emollient was an underrated star in my opinion. The classy and versatile filly picked up a pair of Grade-1 wins on All-Weather and turf, and finished second in a Grade 2 affair on dirt in her juvenile season. She really grabbed my attention when taking the 2013 American Oaks (G1) in her first turf appearance.
A well-bred son of perennially leading sire Tapit, Hofburg counts as his third dam champion Coup De Genie, a half-sister to champion and important sire Machiavellian. There is an abundance of class on this catalog page.
I would never take a rapidly improving colt with a superb pedigree and Hall of Fame connections lightly. Mott has won countless important races in his lifetime without achieving Kentucky Derby success, yet.
The 64-year-old South Dakota native is a three-time Eclipse Award winner in his field and recorded his first classic win when taking the 2010 Belmont Stakes (G1) with Drosselmeyer.
Hofburg has me wondering whether this could finally be Mott’s opportunity to shine in the Kentucky Derby.