The Grade 1, $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby brings together a field of 12 plus one also-eligible at Gulfstream Park, all hoping to prove they have the talent to be considered the top 3-year-old in the country. Tiz the Law is most likely the horse the betting public will gravitate to first as he easily won the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes last month by three lengths in his 3-year-old debut. Holy Bull runner-up Ete Indien flattered Tiz the Law at the end of February with a visually impressive 8 ½-length win in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, with Candy Tycoon and As Seen On Tv separated by a neck when second and third, respectively, in that race.
Another contender in the Florida Derby is Independence Hall, who finished second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes last month when running in a two-turn race for the first time. Gouverneur Morris is a horse who may prove competitive as he finished second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last fall in only the second start of his career before winning in his 3-year-old debut last month. Shivaree and Disc Jockey are two more colts with recent runner-up efforts in stakes which may have a say in the outcome. Shivaree missed by a neck in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes at the end of February while Disc Jockey was beaten 1 ¼ lengths in the American Fabius Stakes in mid-February at the same distance. Soros makes his 3-year-old debut, last seen at the end of November when victorious in the one-turn mile Smooth Air Stakes. Ajaaweed enters the Florida Derby off a third-place effort in the Sam F. Davis, finishing 11 lengths behind runner-up Independence Hall. Sassy But Smart, maiden My First Grammy and also-eligible Rogue Element round out the field.
Ete Indien will be my top choice to win this year’s Florida Derby based on three factors. The first is how easily he drew off to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8 ½ lengths at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 29, earning a 106 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. The second is the fact he has excellent early speed but doesn’t appear to be a need-the-lead type, which will allow him to gain excellent forward position from the moment the gate opens. The third reason I think Ete Indien can win is his pattern of workouts is identical to the one trainer Patrick Biancone used prior to the Fountain of Youth, specifically a seven-furlong workout on turf in 1:23.2 on March 16 followed by a four-furlong breeze in 48.4 on March 25. Although Ete Indien was no match for Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull Stakes prior to the Fountain of Youth, I believe his tactical speed edge may help him hold off his main nemesis in this race.
Tiz the Law earned a career-best and field-high 117 speed figure winning the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1, a figure I’ve never seen a 3-year-old earn that early in the year. The effort came after two months off and was a huge improvement off the colt’s disappointing third-place effort as the favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at the end of November. Prior to that, Tiz the Law won the first two starts of his career including the Champagne Stakes to prove one of the top 2-year-olds in the country. Considering how well Ete Indien ran when winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes four weeks after his finish in the Holy Bull when 11 lengths behind Tiz the Law, we can expect big improvement from Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby. There had been some discussion about a gap in his workouts from Feb. 10 until March 2, but the fact Tiz the Law has put in four consistently spaced workouts since then alleviates those concerns in my opinion.
Gouverneur Morris has upset potential in the Florida Derby. After winning by nine lengths in his debut last September, Gouverneur Morris not only stretched out to two turns for the first time but also moved into stakes company, finishing second of 10 in the Breeders’ Futurity. Rested for more than four months, Gouverneur Morris returned in a two-turn allowance race and rallied from just off the pace to win, earning a 98 figure. Considering logical improvement in his second start as a 3-year-old and off the layoff, Gouverneur Morris must be respected when considering the main win contenders in this year’s Florida Derby.
Honorable mention goes to Independence Hall and Candy Tycoon, both coming into the Florida Derby off runner-up finishes in stakes. After victories in the one-turn Nashua Stakes and Jerome Stakes last year, Independence Hall was easily passed by Sole Volante in the Sam F. Davis Stakes but held second and was 11 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher Ajaaweed. It may be Independence Hall is better suited to one turn but it may also be he got a lot out of the experience in his first two-turn race and can run even better in this situation. Candy Tycoon rallied from eighth (of 10) in the early stages of the Fountain of Youth to get second behind runaway eight-length winner Ete Indien and should be considered for any exacta and trifecta tickets we play in this race at the very least based on that effort.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Ajaaweed (98), As Seen On Tv (101), Disc Jockey (90), My First Grammy (97), Sassy But Smart (93), Shivaree (104), Soros (83), and also-eligible Rogue Element (84).
Tiz the Law
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