2019 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby Cheat Sheet

Racing
The field for the 2018 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby leaves the starting gate, with eventual winner Audible (#8, second from left) breaking well under John Velazquez. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Road to the Kentucky Derby lands in South Florida this Saturday for one of the annual highlights of prep season, as Gulfstream Park hosts the 68th running of the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby. The $1 million, Grade 1 race is Florida’s signature prep for the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, offering a total of 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to the top four finishers that are distributed on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby drew the winners of both of Gulfstream Park’s other Kentucky Derby points preps in Code of Honor (March 2 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes) and Harvey Wallbanger (Feb. 2 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes), with Fountain of Youth runner-up Bourbon War and fourth-place finisher Hidden Scroll two other top contenders in Saturday's race. Eleven horses are entered in the Florida Derby, which will be televised during a one-hour broadcast on NBCSN from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern. Fifteen horses that won the Florida Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby, including three this decade: Always Dreaming (2017), Nyquist (2016), and Orb (2013).

Want a FREE $10 BET on the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby? Check out Xpressbet.com and sign up for an online betting account using promo code CHEATSHEET. That way, once you get to know the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby horses in this handy Cheat Sheet, you can stop by Xpressbet.com and place your bets on Saturday, March 30.  Plus, take advantage of Xpressbet’s MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE on the race.  Bet your horse to Win and get your cash back, up to $10, if they finish 2nd or 3rd.  So no matter if you pick Code of Honor, Hidden Scroll, Bourbon War or someone else, your best bet is with Xpressbet.


Adam Mooshian/Coglianese Photos

1. Hidden Scroll (5-2)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: Juddmonte Farms

Career record: 2 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $50,600

Earnings per start: $25,300

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Sheba Queen, by Empire Maker

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: For a few weeks, this colt held the prized distinction of “Derby buzz horse” following his eye-catching 14-length romp in a one-mile maiden special weight race on Jan. 26 in the slop at Gulfstream, his career debut. That performance, good for a 115 Equibase Speed Figure, summoned fresh memories of Justify’s run to the 2018 Triple Crown, which also occurred after he made his career debut at age 3… but, as it turned out, Hidden Scroll was not quite up to that level. More to the point, he was not able to overcome the fast pace he set in his second start and stakes debut, the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes, where he ran on the lead through six furlongs in 1:10.42 and could not last in the stretch, weakening to fourth. In his defense, Hidden Scroll showed a lot of determination in the Fountain of Youth, gamely battling on even as he tired, and if jockey Javier Castellano can get his mount to settle in the Florida Derby after breaking from the inside post and either set softer fractions or work out a pace-pressing trip, this colt has a good chance to jump right back into the upper echelon of Kentucky Derby contenders with a victory. Castellano has one Florida Derby win, coming in 2014 with Constitution. Juddmonte Farms owned 2003 Florida Derby winner Empire Maker, who went on to win the Belmont Stakes and is now a leading sire. Juddmonte’s Hofburg finished second to Audible in last year’s Florida Derby.

Bet Hidden Scroll in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Eclipse Sportswire

2. Current (15-1)

Jockey: Manny Franco

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta, and Dixiana Farms

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $222,850

Earnings per start: $37,142

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Pedigree: Curlin – Crosswinds, by Storm Cat

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This graded stakes-winning son of Hall of Famer Curlin gives dirt a try for the second time in his career in a last-ditch attempt to get back on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and earn qualifying points for the May 4 classic. He was one of the best 2-year-old turf runners in North America last fall, winning the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland (Derby trail horse War of Will was fourth) and then finished a rough-trip seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf before his connections decided to try him on dirt in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. He had a rough start again in that race and was a nonfactor, finishing seventh before taking a break over the winter. Current returned at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3 in the Dania Beach Stakes on turf and finished third after breaking slowly and running evenly. He’s been training steadily at Palm Beach Downs since then and rates a chance as a longshot in the Florida Derby provided he breaks well – a problem in his races – and takes to dirt. He has a good pedigree for both dirt and stamina, as he is a half-brother (same sire [father], different dam [mother]) to Grade 1 Ashland Stakes winner Weep No More and his grandam (maternal grandmother) is 2001 Kentucky Oaks winner Flute, by Seattle Slew. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Florida Derby a record five times, and four of those have come in the past five editions: Constitution (2014); Materiality (2015); Always Dreaming (2017), and Audible (2018). Current’s co-owner Robert LaPenta won back-to-back Florida Derbies in 2010 (Ice Box) and 2011 (Dialed In).

Bet Current in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photos

3. Harvey Wallbanger (15-1)

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Owners: Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman, and Paul Braverman

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $299,520

Earnings per start: $59,904

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Pedigree: Congrats – Adorabell, by Distorted Humor

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This hard-trying colt enters the Florida Derby in search of more Kentucky Derby qualifying points to add to the 10 he earned in the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes, and also seeking some respect. He rallied along the rail to win the Holy Bull at odds of 29.60-1 by a length over huge longshot Everfast, with favorite Maximus Mischief tiring to third, and earned a career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure as well in his first 3-year-old start. That followed a juvenile campaign where he finished second three times in a row – solid performances all – before winning in November at Churchill Downs in a 1 1/16 mile maiden. Compared to the other top contenders in the Florida Derby, ‘Harvey’ has faced less imposing competition through his young career, and he comes up a bit short terms of speed figures as well – two reasons why he hasn’t appeared on many Derby watch lists after his Holy Bull win. But he’s yet to run a bad race and has been training lights-out at Gulfstream for Ken McPeek leading up to Saturday’s Florida Derby, and should be strongly considered for all exotic bets at the very least. McPeek won the 2002 Florida Derby with Harlan’s Holiday. This week, America’s Best Racing correspondent Tom Pedulla interviewed Harvey Wallbanger’s co-owner Harold Cutler of AWC Stables about his experiences in the horse business and about his enjoyable trip on the current Kentucky Derby trail.

Bet Harvey Wallbanger in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Leslie Martin/Coglianese photo

4. Bourbon War (7-2)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Mark Hennig

Owners: Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $155,100

Earnings per start: $38,775

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Tapit – My Conquestadory, by Artie Schiller

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This well-bred son of top sire Tapit was getting to Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Code of Honor in deep stretch but came up three-quarters of a length short, and if he continues to progress he looms as a logical win candidate in the Florida Derby. He won one of two starts in 2018 as a juvenile and improved his speed figures considerably in his two starts at 3, earning a 107 when winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream in January and then topping that with a 110 in the Fountain of Youth. Bourbon War should relish the added sixteenth of a mile on Saturday, but he may not get the same fast early pace he benefited from last out. Look for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to keep his mount more in touch with the field during the early stages of the Florida Derby than he did in the Fountain of Youth (10 lengths behind at the half-mile marker), while still preserving his natural closing kick for the stretch run. Ortiz is the current leading rider at Gulfstream during its championship meet.

Bet Bourbon War in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Coady Photography

5. Everfast (20-1)

Jockey: Chris Landeros

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 8 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $113,885

Earnings per start: $14,236

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Pedigree: Take Charge Indy – Awesome Surprise, by Awesome Again

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy is still seeking his second career win after scoring in his debut back in August at Ellis Park, but since that start he has, on occasion, shown enough late-running ability to merit consideration as a horse to include in exotic bets. Exhibit A: the Holy Bull Stakes, where he ran on to complete the exacta behind Harvey Wallbanger at gargantuan odds of 128.70-1. Following that surprise showing, he came back to contest the Fountain of Youth Stakes and was a complete non-factor, finishing eighth. He has the pedigree for the Florida Derby’s mile and an eighth distance and has been ambitiously campaigned by owner Brad Kelley of Calumet Farm and Dale Romans throughout his career, but this inconsistent racehorse appears to be overmatched against the top contenders in Saturday’s Florida Derby. Romans’ best Florida Derby finish came in 2011 with Shackleford, who lost by a head and later won the Preakness Stakes. The name Calumet Farm, synonymous with so many historical markers in Thoroughbred Racing, is also represented by five Florida Derby winners; all of those came in the mid- to late 20th century when Calumet was owned by the Wright family.

Bet Everfast in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


6. Hard Belle (50-1)

Jockey: Jose Batista

Trainer: Jaime Mejia

Owner: Thoroughbred Champions Training Center

Career record: 13 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $43,360

Earnings per start: $3,335

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 79

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Bourbon Belle, by Storm Boot

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Hard Spun colt is listed as 50-1 on the morning line for a reason: he’s hit the board only three times in 13 career starts and has a top Equibase Speed Figure that’s around 30 points lower that what will be needed for a top-three finish in Saturday’s Florida Derby. He started out his career as a sprinter last fall and his only win came in his fourth career start, a five-furlong maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Park West. Since then, his best start came back in January when he was second in a 6 ½-furlong race at Gulfstream Park. In his two stakes attempts at Gulfstream, the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on dirt and the 1 1/16-mile Palm Beach Stakes on turf, he has been defeated by a combined 27 ¾ lengths. He does have a bit of early speed and should be forwardly placed coming out of the starting gate, and he also has a nice pedigree as a half-brother (same sire [father], different dam [mother]) to Canadian champion and classic winner Not Bourbon. But based on his past performances, Hard Belle should be retreating by the time the Florida Derby field leaves the backstretch.

Bet Hard Belle in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Lauren King/Coglianese Photo

7. Maximum Security (9-2)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Jason Servis

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Career record: 3 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $66,600

Earnings per start: $22,200

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: New Year’s Day – Lil Indy, by Anasheed

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Here’s the wild card in Saturday’s Florida Derby – an undefeated, untested, but inexperienced colt who is stretching out to two turns for the first time and figures to provide pace pressure to Hidden Scroll. He debuted at Gulfstream in late December of last year and romped by 9 ¾ lengths in a 6 ½-furlong maiden claiming race, and then came back to run in starter optional claiming races at six and seven furlongs in January and February, respectively, winning both by a combined 24 ¾ lengths. That sort of record shouts out loud and clear that Maximum Security has outclassed his competition so far… but does that mean he’s ready to win a Grade 1 stakes at 1 1/8 miles? He’s a son of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, who was owned by Gary and Mary West as well, and his dam is a half-sister (same sire [father], different dam [mother]) to $3 million earner Flat Out, a Grade 1 winner at 1 ¼ miles. He’s got the pedigree foundation to stretch out in distance as well as accomplished connections, but the final test is always on the racetrack. This colt’s presence in the Florida Derby certainly adds intrigue, though, and it will be interesting to see if jockey Luis Saez takes the challenge to Hidden Scroll early in the race or concedes the lead. Saez ranks one win behind Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Gulfstream jockey standings as of March 27 after leading in wins for the past two championship meets.

Bet Maximum Security in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


8. Bodexpress (30-1)

Jockey: Nik Juarez

Trainer: Gustavo Delgado

Owners: Top Racing, Global Thoroughbred, and GDS Racing Stable

Career record: 4 starts – 0 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $20,700

Earnings per start: $5,175

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Pedigree: Bodemeister – Pied a Terre, by City Zip

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Bodemeister colt enters the Florida Derby still a maiden, but is also coming off the best performance of his young career. After racing twice as a juvenile with one runner-up finish, he returned in January at Gulfstream Park and finished a distant fourth in Hidden Scroll’s tour de force maiden win on Jan. 26 after chasing that foe early. Then, he returned on Feb. 16 at Gulfstream and just missed winning a seven-furlong maiden race, losing by a neck after being bumped at the start. Bodexpress boosted his Equibase Speed Figure by 18 points to a 103 in that February start, a good sign that he is maturing and on track to test stakes company, and he also has a good pedigree for stretching out. But making his first two-turn start in a $1 million, Grade 1 race is a big challenge. Trainer Gustavo Delgado finished second in the 2016 Florida Derby with Majesto.

Bet Bodexpress in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

9. Code of Honor (3-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Shug McGaughey

Owner: William S. Farish

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $384,820

Earnings per start: $96,205

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Noble Mission – Reunited, by Dixie Union

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: One of the highest-regarded colts of his class, Code of Honor fulfilled those expectations in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, rebounding off of a poor 3-year-old debut to post a three-quarter length win. He stalked a fast pace in that 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream, ran past leader Hidden Scroll in early stretch, and had enough in reserve to hold off closing Bourbon War in the final strides. He earned a career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure in the Fountain of Youth and faces a tough test matching up against both of those foes again on Saturday, but this colt has been training well for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey at Payson Park and has a perfect midpack running style for a Florida Derby that, on paper, has a balanced lineup of speed horses and closers. He also retains the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has won the Florida Derby a record five times. All of those wins have come since 2009, including the last two runnings with Always Dreaming in 2017 and Audible last year, who respectively trained on to win and run third in their Kentucky Derbys. Velazquez also won the 2013 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby aboard Orb, trained by McGaughey.

Bet Code of Honor in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Lauren King/Coglianese Photo

10. Union’s Destiny (30-1)

Jockey: Leonel Reyes

Trainer: Juan Avila

Owner: Los Samanes

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $43,750

Earnings per start: $10,938

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101

Pedigree: Union Rags – Ms Anna Destiny, by Anabaa

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags figures to be a longshot in the Florida Derby and will have to improve considerably on his first graded stakes showing – sixth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes – to have a say in Saturday’s outcome. He has made all four career starts at Gulfstream Park, winning his second start by 5 ¼ lengths in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race and then running a solid third behind Garter and Tie in a one-mile listed stakes to close out his 2-year-old season. He showed little when making his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth, however, racing wide through the first turn and never reaching contention thereafter. He should be coming from off of the pace in the Florida Derby, but fellow closers Bourbon War and Harvey Wallbanger are faster and have a class edge.

Bet Union’s Destiny in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby


Leslie Martin/Coglianese photo

11. Garter and Tie (15-1)

Jockey: Jeffrey Sanchez

Trainer: Ralph Nicks

Owner: Jacks or Better Farm

Career record: 8 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $286,970

Earnings per start: $35,871

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Pedigree: Brooks ‘n Down – Garter Belt, by Anasheed

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Florida-bred colt finished sixth in his most recent start, the Feb. 2 Holy Bull Stakes, and he’ll face an even tougher challenge in Saturday’s Florida Derby. Overall, he’s hit the board in six of his eight starts, all coming at Gulfstream Park, and reached top form last fall when he broke his maiden in his fourth start – a state-bred stakes race – and then ran second, first, and third in three subsequent stakes. In his final start of that streak and his first start at 3, he finished third in the Feb. 2 Mucho Macho Man Stakes, one spot ahead of Code of Honor. That set him up for the Holy Bull, where he never made an impression and checked in 4 ¾ lengths behind Harvey Wallbanger. If he can rebound off of that showing – a big if – he has a stalking running style that should help him work out a good trip behind the early leaders on Saturday. His pedigree is obscure but decent, containing some stamina in his female family and class as well, including multiple graded stakes winner Jackson Bend, a Florida-bred fan favorite co-owned by Fred and Jane Brei's Jacks or Better Farm.

Bet Garter and Tie in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!