Using History to Handicap the 2019 Florida Derby

Gambling
Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

In recent years, no Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep race has produced more Kentucky Derby winners than the Grade 1, $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017) all used their Florida Derby triumphs as springboards to glory on the first Saturday in May, so if you’re looking for a horse who can contend for victory at Churchill Downs, the Florida Derby is a great place to start.

But first, you have to find the Florida Derby winner, preferably before the race is run so that you can fully capitalize on your opinion from a wagering perspective. Fortunately, examining the history of the Florida Derby can point out trends and tendencies to help us identify the type of horse most likely to succeed in Gulfstream’s signature Derby prep race.

With that in mind, let’s dig through the data and see what kind of stats we can come up with.

Any Running Style Can Prevail

Over the last 10 years, the Florida Derby has been remarkably fair to all types of running styles. Three editions have been won by front-runners, two by pace trackers, two by mid-pack closers, and three by deep closers. The early fractions tend to be the determining factor in this regard; the three Florida Derbys won by deep closers not surprisingly featured the three fastest half-mile fractions in this 10-race sample.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile and ¾-mile times

2018

Audible

8th by 8.5 lengths (9 starters)

46.37, 1:11.68 (fast)

2017

Always Dreaming

2nd by 1.5 lengths (10 starters)

47.08, 1:10.75 (fast)

2016

Nyquist

1st by .5 lengths (10 starters)

47.09, 1:11.39 (good)

2015

Materiality

1st by .5 lengths (9 starters)

48.24, 1:12.51 (fast)

2014

Constitution

4th by 2 lengths (8 starters)

48.19, 1:12.00 (fast)

2013

Orb

5th by 4 lengths (10 starters)

48.56, 1:12.89 (fast)

2012

Take Charge Indy

1st by 1 length (8 starters)

47.71, 1:12.09 (fast)

2011

Dialed In

8th by 10.5 lengths (8 starters)

46.35, 1:10.63 (fast)

2010

Ice Box

11th by 9.5 lengths (11 starters)

46.46, 1:10.76 (fast)

2009

Quality Road

2nd by .5 lengths (7 starters)

46.83, 1:10.66 (fast)

Short-Priced Contenders Usually Win, But Favorites Can Be Beaten

In a rather unusual trend, eight of the last 10 Florida Derby winners started at 3.30-1 or less, but only one (Audible at 1.60-1) was the betting favorite. That’s because the Florida Derby typically features two or three standout contenders, with bettors frequently emphasizing the wrong one, allowing the second or third choice to win at a short price.

Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez Win More Often Than Not

Gulfstream’s perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Florida Derby five times, including four of the last five editions (2018, 2017, 2015, 2014). One of the reasons he didn’t win in 2016 was because he didn’t have a starter, so he’s actually won the last four Florida Derbys in which he has entered a horse.

Even more impressive, jockey John Velazquez has ridden in seven of the last 10 Florida Derbys, winning five times while finishing second and third in the others. Now there’s a fantastic streak of success!

Nyquist after winning the 2016 Florida Derby
Nyquist after winning the 2016 Florida Derby (Eclipse Sportswire)

Local Runners Have Dominated

Almost without exception, the top finishers in recent Florida Derbys had previously run at Gulfstream Park. Of the 30 horses to have finished in the Florida Derby trifecta over the last 10 years, 25 were coming out of a race at Gulfstream Park, including nine of the 10 winners. The only shipper to win the Florida Derby during that timeframe was the champion 2-year-old Nyquist, a future Kentucky Derby winner who parlayed his success in Santa Anita’s Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes into a Florida Derby victory in 2016.

The remaining four non-Gulfstream runners to crack the Florida Derby trifecta over the last 10 years all entered off a prep run at Tampa Bay Downs, another Florida racetrack that runs during the winter.

But despite nine of the last 10 Florida Derby winners prepping at Gulfstream Park, there has been little consistency in regard to which races they have used for their preps. Audible used the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes; Orb, Ice Box, and Quality Road used the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes; Always Dreaming, Constitution, Take Charge Indy, and Dialed In used allowance races; and Materiality used the Islamorada Handicap.

Conclusions

Todd Pletcher might not have a Florida Derby starter this year, in which case the race could be more wide open than usual. Strictly based on history, you have to respect the chances of Code of Honor, who rallied from mid-pack to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream under jockey John Velazquez. He’ll be well regarded in the wagering and generally fits the historical profile of a Florida Derby winner.

At the same time, it would be unwise to count out horses stepping up in class from allowance or listed stakes races, since these types have won five of the last 10 Florida Derbys. Maybe it’s worth keeping an eye on Maximum Security, an unbeaten colt who won a starter optional claiming race at Gulfstream last month by 18 ¼ lengths. Win or lose, this speedy colt figures to be a factor on the front end.

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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