$1 Million and 170 Kentucky Derby Points at Stake
Code of Honor returns to the scene of his Fountain of Youth Stakes victory as the morning line favorite in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
Owned by W. S. Farish, Code of Honor will clash with 10 rivals in search of more Kentucky Derby points and part of a $1 million purse.
The son of Noble Mission will seek to follow in the hoofprints of Orb, the Shug McGaughey-trained winner of the 2013 Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby that went on to capture the Kentucky Derby.
Code of Honor disappointed in his 2019 debut in the Jan. 5 Mucho Macho Man when he finished an even fourth as the 4-5 favorite. He redeemed himself in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, in which he settled off a strong early pace before rallying through the stretch to capture his two-turn debut.
That win was a result of McGaughey giving Code of Honor more to do in his training.
“I think I have a little bit more confidence because I was a little bit shook after the Mucho Macho Man,” McGaughey said. “I kind of changed my strategy, and that worked, so I’ve kept on with it and I think he’s progressing the right way.”
Asked whether his horse and John Velazquez will lay off the early pace on Saturday like he did in the Fountain of Youth, the trainer was noncommittal.
“It depends on the pace. I don’t want him up too close. I don’t think that’s his way,” McGaughey said. “A lot of that will be up to Johnny as the race unfolds out of the gate. I hope we get a little pace, which I think we probably will. Going a mile and an eighth, he’s just going to have to be patient with him as he was the other day.”
Code of Honor drew post position 9.
Bourbon War has done his best running late in all of his four career starts, most notably finishing a closes second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Mark Hennig said he was particularly impressed with Bourbon War’s effort after the finish line under Irad Ortiz Jr.
“The gallop-out – some people put emphasis on that, and some people don’t – I thought his gallop-out was much stronger than the rest of the field,” Hennig said. “It really gave us some confidence. I know Irad has a lot of confidence.”
Hennig said he has also been pleased with the son of Tapit’s preparation for the Florida Derby for owners Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable.
“His daily gallops, he’s putting a lot into them, which is great to see. He’s matured a lot. He’s eating tremendously right now. He’s a horse that’s needed to fill out and grown up as the spring comes on, and he’s doing that,” Hennig said. “Hopefully, that keeps going as we transition to the next town and he does as well as he’s done here.”
Ortiz has the return mount aboard Bourbon War, who was rated third in the morning line at 7-2 after drawing post position 4.
Hidden Scroll was installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite after drawing the rail. His heated pace battle with longshot Gladiator King aided the stretch kicks of Code of Honor and Bourbon War in the Fountain of Youth. Now Hidden Scroll will make only his third career start in the Florida Derby, which trainer Bill Mott certainly hopes will not unfold like his Fountain of Youth trip.
Mott said he is confident that the son of Hard Spun, who was the 6-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth after an eye-catching, front-running maiden win, is more versatile than his two previous efforts may suggest. The Juddmonte Farms homebred has been placed behind horses in his two workouts at Payson Park since the Fountain of Youth.
“I think this horse is fine behind horses; he’s fine on the lead if the pace is such that he needs to be on the lead. That’s the rider’s decision. They have to make that choice when they leave the starting gate,” said Mott.
The trainer has named Javier Castellano to ride Hidden Scroll for the first time Saturday. Joel Rosario, who is regular rider for Game Winner and who is named to ride in Dubai on Saturday, was aboard Hidden Scroll in the Fountain of Youth.
Maximum Security could be a pace factor. The Florida Derby will be the stakes debut for the speedy son of New Year's Day. The Jason Servis-trained colt launched his career at the track with three eye-catching victories, including a front-running 14 1/4-length triumph last time out in an optional claiming starter allowance on Feb. 20, when he ran seven furlongs in 1:21.72.
“I’d like to see two horses head-and-head for the lead and him tucked in laying third about four lengths off of them," Servis said. I’ll leave it to Luis Saez. He’s a great rider He’s a young horse that is probably going to lay it all out just because he’s young enough where he hasn’t really learned just to go through the motions. I’ll leave it to Luis and see what happens.”
Maximum Security has been a pleasant surprise for Servis, ending up in the Florida Derby after debuting in a $16,000 claiming race that he won by 9 3/4 lengths on Dec. 20. The homebred colt came right back to capture an optional claiming allowance by 6 1/2 lengths on Jan. 24 before his stunning victory last time out.
“I thought he had some ability, but I didn’t think he was this kind of horse, to be honest. I thought he was well-spotted (for a $16,000 price tag) and he’d get the job done,” said Servis. “I’m a big boy. He was in for a claiming price, and we got lucky and he didn’t get claimed. Then I picked a couple of soft spots out for him where he was the heavy favorite, and he easily won those. He’s three-for-three at Gulfstream, so we’ll see.”
Maximum Security is rated fourth at 9-2 in the morning line after drawing post positon 7.
Harvey Wallbanger bypassed the Fountain of Youth after posting a 29-1 upset victory in the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Feb. 2 for owners Harold Lerner, LLC, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman and Paul Braverman. The Ken McPeek-trained colt finished second in his first three starts before breaking through with a maiden-breaking score at Churchill Downs in his juvenile campaign finale and capturing the Holy Bull.
The son of Congrats closed from ninth in the Holy Bull to win by a length under Brian Hernandez Jr., who has the riding assignment Saturday.
“The Holy Bull was a lot of fun,” Hernandez said. “We were a ways back – that’s his running style. The race set up for him. We had a lot of speed in front of us. I was liking my spot. I was able to sneak up the fence and turning for home when we were in contention, I thought he’d go on and finish it off, and he did. He ran on and ran a really big race.
“He came out of some good maiden races in Kentucky in the fall,” Hernandez added. “When he was there for me in the Holy Bull the whole way, that’s what gives you confidence.”
Todd Pletcher, who has saddled a record five Florida Derby winners, opted to give Current, a graded-stakes winner on turf, another chance on dirt Saturday. The son of Curlin finished third in the Feb. 3 Dania Beach at Gulfstream on turf last time out. Before that, he finished seventh in the Nov. 24 Kentucky Jockey Club over a sloppy Churchill Downs track in his only main track race.
Manuel Franco has the call on Current, who won the Bourbon at Keeneland last fall. Current is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta and Dixiana Farms, LLC,
Everfast, who closed strongly to finish second behind Harvey Wallbanger at 128-1 in the Holy Bull, was well off the board in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Dale Romans hopes that the son of Take Charge Indy can rebound from that effort.
Chris Landeros has the return mount. Calumet Farm is the owner.
Garter and Tie was a force in the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes last summer. He will try to improve on a sixth-place finish behind Harvey Wallbanger in the Holy Bull. The Florida-bred son of Brooks ‘n Down won the Smooth Air and finished third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes going a one-turn mile. The Jacks or Better Farm homebred colt won the $250,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes Affirmed going seven furlongs last summer.
Jeffrey Sanchez has the assignment aboard Garter and Tie.
Bodexpress will seek to break his maiden in the Florida Derby after finishing fourth in Hidden Scroll’s spectacular maiden score two starts back and a close second following a rough start last time out. Trainer Gustavo Delgado named Nik Juarez for the mount. Top Racing LLC and Global Thoroughbreds LLC and GDS Racing Stable are the owners.
Union’s Destiny outran his odds when he finished sixth from his outside post in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Juan Carlos Avila and owner Los Samanes LLC awarded the mount to Leonel Reyes.
Hard Belle, a one-time winner in 13 career starts for trainer Jaime Mejia, will be ridden by Jose Batista. He's owned by Thoroughbred Champions Training Center LLC.
Kentucky Derby points at stake in the Florida Derby will be awarded 100 to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to third place and 10 to fourth place.
In the first 67 runnings of the Florida Derby, 44 starters went on to capture 59 Triple Crown events, including 24 Kentucky Derby champions, 19 Preakness winners and 16 Belmont victors.
The Florida Derby will be the main event on a stakes-laden 14-race program. First post is at 11:30 a.m.
The Florida Derby will highlight six-race sequence for the 20-cent Rainbow 6, when there will be a mandatory payout of the popular multi-race wager. The carryover jackpot heading into Thursday’s card stands at $2,455,348.
By Dick Downey with content from Gulfstream Park release