Florida Derby – Top Contenders to Compete For Kentucky Derby Qualification

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The Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park has been one of the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby for decades. Recent editions have been particularly vintage, as no fewer than three winners of the Kentucky Derby since 2001 used the Florida Derby as their final Kentucky Derby prep.

The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, which will be run on March 31, 2012, has been the highlight of Gulfstream Park’s winter-spring meeting every year since 1952. This year the race will be contested for a purse of $1 million, which makes it one among the most lucrative of all the Kentucky Derby prep races.

The last horse to parlay a victory in the Florida Derby with a win in the Kentucky Derby was Big Brown in 2008. The strapping son of Boundary would add a win in the Preakness Stakes, but would be denied Triple Crown immortality when forced to pull up in the Belmont Stakes.

The two other horses to win the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby during the last decade were Barbaro in 2006 and Monarchos in 2001. Barbaro would go on to score a rousing victory in the Kentucky Derby—his 6 1/2-length margin of victory was the largest since 1946—but was subsequently injured in the Preakness Stakes and never raced again.

After Monarchos’ won the 2001 Florida Derby, he prepped once more in the Wood Memorial and was a disappointing second. The gray son of Maria’s Mon put it all together on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, however, coming from off-the-pace to score as the fourth-choice in the wagering.

Monarchos’ major claim to fame is his winning time in the Kentucky Derby—1:59.97—was the second-fastest in the race’s history. The legendary Secretariat is the only horse to have run a faster Kentucky Derby.

Other horses to have won the Florida Derby and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby include Thunder Gulch (1995), Unbridled (1990) and Swale (1984).

The 2012 Florida Derby is shaping up to be the strongest of all of this season’s Kentucky Derby preps. It is slated to feature Union Rags, the current Kentucky Derby favorite according to Las Vegas, as well as El Padrino, who exits a strong victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta have teamed up to win the previous two runnings of the Florida Derby with Dialed In in 2011 and Ice Box in 2010. Zito, who is a member of the Racing Hall of Fame, has won three Florida Derbys overall to tie John Veitch for most Florida Derby wins by a trainer. Zito also won in 2005 with High Fly.

Legendary Calumet Farm won five Florida Derbys between 1957 and 1978 to lead all owners. Five jockeys have won the Florida Derby three times to lead their respective category. They are Bill Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, Jerry Bailey, Mike Smith and Edgar Prado.

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