Florida Derby

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Florida Derby | Results | HistoryContenders | Prep Races | Handicapping | Winners

 

Florida Derby Race Facts

  • Location: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale Beach, FL
  • Inaugural Race: 1952
  • Current Distance: 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
  • Track Type: Left-Handed Dirt
  • Age Qualifications: Three-year-olds
  • Status: Grade 1
  • 2024 Purse: $1,000,000
  • 2024 Race Date: Saturday, March 30th

The Florida Derby is the main Kentucky Derby prep race at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. Held at 1 1/8 miles, the prestigious event takes place at the end of March or early April, five weeks before the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

2023 Florida Derby Results

POSTHORSEJOCKEY / TRAINERWIN / PLACE / SHOW
11
Forte
Irad Ortiz, Jr. / Todd A. Pletcher
$2.60 / $2.20 / $2.10
4
Mage
Luis Saez / Gustavo Delgado
$3.40 / $2.60
9
Cyclone Mischief
Javier Castellano / Dale L. Romans
$3.20
8
Mr. Ripple
Edgard J. Zayas / Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.
10
Fort Bragg
Joel Rosario / Tim Yakteen
7
Il Miracolo
Jesus M. Rios / Antonio Sano
2
West Coast Cowboy
Sonny Leon / Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.
1
Jungfrau
Paco Lopez / William I. Mott
6
Nautical Star
Leonel Reyes / Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.
5
Mr. Peeks
Edwin Gonzalez / Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.

Exotic Payoffs:

  • $1.00 Exacta (11-4) Paid: $3.90
  • $0.50 Trifecta (11-4-9) Paid: $6.95
  • $0.10 Superfecta (11-4-9-8) Paid: $11.18

Watch the 2023 Florida Derby

History of the Florida Derby

Inaugurated at Gulfstream Park in 1952, the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby is not only one of the premier prep races for the Kentucky Derby, but has proven to be a prestigious prize in its own right. For more than six decades, it has yielded numerous Triple Crown race winners, champions, and eventual Hall of Fame inductees.

Needles (1956) was the first winner to go on and win the Kentucky Derby, an especially poignant victory as the colt was foaled in Florida and gave a boost to the state’s then-fledgling breeding industry.

Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Forward Pass (1968), Spectacular Bid (1979), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2005), Big Brown (2008), Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017) all followed in Needles’ hoofsteps by winning both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.

Other notable winners include Hall of Famers Nashua (1955), Alydar (1978), and Holy Bull (1994), and classic winners Bally Ache (1960), Candy Spots (1963), Snow Chief (1986), and Empire Maker (2003).

Florida Derby winners who won divisional championships at age two or in the sprinting category include Top Knight (1969), Honest Pleasure (1976), Plugged Nickle (1980), Lord Avie (1981), and Fly So Free (1991), Nyquist (2015), and Forte (2023).

Currently, John Velazquez holds the record for most wins by a jockey with five after notching back to back wins in 2017 and 2018 to pull away from other Hall of Fame jockeys like Bill Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, and Edgar Prado.

Todd Pletcher owns the record for most Florida Derby wins by a trainer with seven, with his most recent win coming in 2023 with Forte, the 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse.

Calumet’s first score came in 1957 when Gen. Duke set a still-standing stakes record of 1:46 4/5 for the nine-furlong distance.

The largest margin of victory in race history was 9 3/4 lengths set by Empire Maker. The largest win payoff was $183.60 set by Williamstown Kid (1966).

Florida Derby Contenders

Contenders for the Florida Derby typically emerge from the local three-year-old scene at Gulfstream Park. While the most productive route is through the series of stakes leading up to the meet’s highlight, key allowance races have also proven a path to success.

The most significant stepping stone is the Fountain of the Youth, the final prep ahead of the Florida Derby. Five horses — High Fly (2005), Scat Daddy (2007), Quality Road (2009) and Orb (2013), and Forte (2023) — have won both races in the same year.

Three other winners skipped the Fountain of Youth, but had competed in the previous prep, the Holy Bull. Most notable on this list are Barbaro (2006) and Dialed In (2011), who both won the Holy Bull. Barbaro rested in between, but Dialed In used an allowance as his interim port of call en route to the Florida Derby.

Up-and-coming sophomores have likewise catapulted themselves into the Florida Derby picture by way of allowance races at Gulfstream. Monarchos (2001) and Big Brown (2008) impressed versus lesser before taking the race in their stakes debut, and interestingly, both later won the Kentucky Derby as well. Constitution had a similar profile in 2014, only to be knocked off the trail subsequently by injury.

Florida Derby Prep Races

The Florida Derby is the final in a four-race series for three-year-olds at Gulfstream Park. The prestigious event is held at 1 1/8 miles.

The first race in the series was previously known as the Gulfstream Park Derby (renamed the Mucho Macho Man for 2015). It typically takes place on or near New Year’s Day at a mile.

Next up is the Holy Bull Stakes, a Grade 3 event. It takes place at the end of January and stretches sophomores out to 1 1/16 miles.

The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes stays at the same 8 1/2-furlong distance and is contested four weeks after the Holy Bull.

The series culminates in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby at the end of March or early April. It is itself a major prep for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and is worth points on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale to the top five respective finishers as part of the Championship Series of races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

While the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth are preps for the Florida Derby, they also award points to the top four finishers (20-8-6-4-2 and 50-20-15-10-5, respectively) in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Handicapping the Florida Derby

As a major race on the Kentucky Derby trail, handicapping the race involves two basic judgment calls: first, which of the proven stakes horses are most likely to benefit from the 1 1/8-mile distance, and second, do any of the up-and-comers look good enough to handle the biggest class test of their careers?

The logical starting point is to evaluate the horses who have already been knocking heads in the 1 1/16-mile preps at Gulfstream Park, the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. Top performers in these events generally do well over the extra half-furlong of the Florida Derby.

But because of Gulfstream’s track configuration, 1 1/16-mile races end at the sixteenth pole, not the regular finish line. Hence sprinter types might find it easier to carry their speed through a short stretch run in races like the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. In the Florida Derby, however, they could be vulnerable over the complete length of the stretch.

Gulfstream has typically played friendly to speed and stalkers rather than deep closers. Yet a race overloaded with early speed could end up playing into the hands of a classy closer, so as always, try to envision how the pace scenario shapes up.

Another factor to consider is whether a horse is making the second or third start off a holiday. Some Triple Crown aspirants may just be rounding into form now after their winter break. If so, they’re eligible to turn the tables on busier rivals who had a race-fitness edge in an earlier prep.

Given the depth of the sophomore class at Gulfstream, there’s usually at least one key allowance race every meet that is stakes-caliber in quality. Horses who’ve caught the eye in such a salty event are capable of rapid progress at this time of year. For an objective measure of how they stack up, compare the BRIS Speed ratings for the allowances and the stakes. 

Past Winners of the Florida Derby

Year
Winner
Jockey / Trainer
Time
2023
Forte
Irad Ortiz, Jr. / Todd A. Pletcher
1:49.37
2022
White Abarrio
Tyler Gaffalione / Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.
01:50.6
2021
Known Agenda
Irad Ortiz, Jr. / Todd A. Pletcher
1:49.45
2020
Tiz the Law
Manny Franco / Barclay Tagg
01:50.0
2019
Maximum Security
Luis Saez / Jason Servis
01:48.9
2018
Audible
John R. Velazquez / Todd Pletcher
01:49.5
2017
Always Dreaming
John R. Velazquez / Todd Pletcher
01:47.5
2016
Nyquist
Mario Gutierrez / Doug O'Neill
01:49.1
2015
Materiality
John R. Velazquez / Todd Pletcher
01:52.3
2014
Constitution
Javier Castellano / Todd Pletcher
01:49.2