Florida Derby on Saturday; For Fans, the Last Big Racing Day for a While

Flashy colt Tiz the Law continues his trek to the September 5 Kentucky Derby and meets Fountain of Youth winner Ete Indien and others.

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INDEPENDENCE HALL, a Florida Derby (G1) contender. (NYRA photo)

By: JM/Gulfstream Park |

The March. 28 Florida Derby (G1) for 3-year-olds will be the main event on a sensational 14-race program (first-race post –11:30 a.m.) featuring 10 stakes, six graded, worth $1.825 million in purses. The $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton and the $200,000 Kitten’s Joy Pan American (G2) will be highlights on the Florida Derby undercard, along with the $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3), the $100,000 Orchid presented by Rood & Riddle (G3) and the $100,000 Appleton (G3).

For racing fans and bettors, who fuel horse racing’s purses, this will be the last big day of major racing, dirt and turf, to be enjoyed in some time. Only the May 2 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, a dirt-only track, remains as a big race and just a handful of racetracks are still conducting racing.

It remains to be seen if Gulfstream can continue racing much longer, if at all, past the Derby on Saturday. However, the track, which runs through the summer, has been battling the city of Hallandale to continue business.

The Florida Derby, at 1 1/8 miles was expected to be one of the last major races for sophomores getting ready for the Kentucky Derby but with the big Derby now scheduled for Sept. 5, the Florida Derby is a stand alone big event with a big purse.

Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law surged to the top of the list of 2020 Triple Crown candidates with a dominating triumph in the Feb. 1 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park, where the son of Constitution will try to cement his No. 1 ranking in  $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby (G1).

A mandatory payout of the 20-cent Rainbow 6 has been scheduled for Saturday. There will also be guaranteed pools Saturday for the Late Pick 4 ($500,000) and the Late Pick 5 ($400,000).

Tiz the Law’s smashing 2020 debut became all the more impressive when Ete Indien, who finished three lengths behind him in the Holy Bull, went on to produce an eye-catching 8 ½-length front-running victory in the Feb. 29 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park in his absence.

The Barclay Tagg-trained colt will also try to cement a place in the starting gate for the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1), which has been postponed from May 2 to Sept. 5, when he takes on 12 rivals, including Ete Indien, in the 69th running of the Florida Derby. The Florida Derby winner will earn 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

“One of the big reasons is we want to get our points and then not have to worry about that and hopefully keep him healthy and sound so we’re able to actually run the race on the first Saturday in September,” said Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, which campaigned Tagg-trained 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Funny Cide.

Although Tiz the Law bypassed the Fountain of Youth, his connections are confident that their 6-5 morning-line favorite who drew post position No. 7 will be up to the task of maintaining his top ranking in the Florida Derby.

“He certainly proved in his last race that he can run off a layoff, so I don’t think there’s any question about that. He showed he liked the track there at Gulfstream. Probably the top competitor there is a horse that we beat in Ete Indien. We beat him going a mile and a sixteenth and I think our horse is absolutely well suited to go more than a mile and a sixteenth,” Knowlton said. “A mile and an eighth to him, I don’t think is any challenge to him at all.”

Tiz the Law distinguished himself as a top-tier horse last season, when he debuted with a 4 ½-length triumph in an Aug. 8 maiden special weight race at Saratoga before going on to capture the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park by four lengths a month later. His only loss in four career starts came in his 2019 finale in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), when he finished a close third over a sloppy Churchill Downs racetrack after lacking room entering the stretch.

Manuel Franco has the return mount aboard Tiz the Law Saturday.

Ete Indien’s triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth was particularly impressive considering that he had to break from the far-outside No. 10 post position. The son of Summer Front made quick work of the short run to the first turn with an alert break and a quick burst of speed. The Patrick Biancone-trained colt shook off early pressure while setting the pace on the backstretch and cruised to a comfortable victory under Florent Geroux.

Biancone is confident that 1 1/8-mile distance will be well within Ete Indien’s capabilities Saturday.

“I don’t think he has a problem with stamina,” Biancone said. “He’s very manageable. The other day [in the Fountain of Youth], we had to ask him to get out of a bad hole. When he got the lead, he relaxed immediately and he was very manageable. Florent said he came back to him very nicely. He slowed down and relaxed.”

Ete Indien, who breeze four furlongs in 48.40 seconds at Palm Meadows Training Center Wednesday morning, has shown considerable versatility during his five-race career, which he kicked off with a fast-closing victory by a neck in a Sept. 13 maiden special weight victory over Gulfstream Park’s turf course. Following an extremely wide trip in an off-the-board finish in the Bourbon (G3) on Keeneland’s turf course, Ete Indien captured his dirt debut with a front-running 2 ½-length victory in a mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 20 at Gulfstream. He set a pressured pace in the Holy Bull before settling for second, 11 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher As Seen On Tv. Ete Indien made a considerable move forward in his Fountain of Youth victory.

“The horse keeps improving from race to race,” Biancone said. “Hopefully, he’ll keep improving and we should have a really good horse in the summer.”

Ete Indien once again drew a far-outside post position (No. 12) for the Florida Derby.

Geroux has the return mount aboard Ete Indien, who is rated second at 4-1 and is owned by Linda Shanahan, Sanford Bacon, Dream With Me Stable Inc., Horse France America, D P Racing LLC and Patrick L. Biancone Racing LLC.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled a record five Florida Derby winners, will be represented by Gouverneur Morris and Candy Tycoon in his quest for a sixth winner of Gulfstream’s signature race for 3-year-olds that has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown events, including 24 Kentucky Derby winners.

Team Valor International and WinStar Farm LLC’s Gouverneur Morris has raced only once this year, capturing a Feb. 14 optional claiming allowance at Tampa Bay Downs, where he came close to the track record for a mile and 40 yards while winning by 1 ½ lengths.

“I thought it was a good comeback. It wasn’t a cupcake field. He finished up well and seemed to come out of it and has trained strongly since then. We weren’t 100 percent sure what his next start was going to be, but based on the strength of his last breeze and the fact that the Florida Derby is right in front of us we felt like we better go ahead and go now,” Pletcher said.

Gouverneur Morris created a buzz at Saratoga when he debuted with a nine-length victory Sept. 2. The son of Constitution went on to finish second behind Maxfield in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland to finish off his juvenile campaign.

“He’s training as well as ever. I thought in particular his last breeze was the one we were hoping for and kind of sold us on the time to go is now,” Pletcher said.

Mathis Stable LLC’s Candy Tycoon closed to finish a distant second behind Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth in his stakes debut. The son of Twirling Candy had broken his maiden by four lengths in his prior start at Gulfstream Park a month earlier while stretching out around two turns for the first time on dirt.

“The last race was an improved performance by him. He’s one that we’ve kind of had high hopes for. He’s kind of frustrated us a little bit because he trained a little better than he had been running in the afternoons but that was kind of the first time he settled off the pace a little bit. He seemed to make a move forward doing that,” Pletcher said. “This race on paper appears to have plenty of pace so it could be a good setup for him, but once again he needs to step up and make another move forward to get a piece of it.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the mount aboard Gouverneur Morris, while Javier Castellano has the call on Candy Tycoon.

Independence Hall, who is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creek Racing Stables LLC, Kathleen Verratti and Robert Verratti, will seek to make amends for his first career loss Saturday. The Michael Trombetta-trained son of Constitution, who had won his first three race by a combined 21 lengths, moved to the lead in the stretch before being caught by Sole Volante in the Feb. 8 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. Beaten by 2 ½ lengths in his first start around two turns, Independence Hall finished 11 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher Ajaaweed.

“Some circumstantial things went against him in the Sam Davis. He got beat that day on the square, but if you consider the trouble that he had in that race, between the tongue tie and losing his right front shoe, the race shape and setup playing against him, I thought it was a really strong effort,” Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Aron Wellman said. “He’s never run a bad race and since that time we’ve really put a circle around the Florida Derby and he’s trained exceptionally well. We’ve got reason to expect him not to show up and run his ‘A’ race come Saturday.”

Previously, Independence Hall won his Sept. 21 debut at Parx by 4 ¾ lengths before capturing the Nov. 3 Nashua (G3) by 12 ¼ lengths and the Jan. 1 Jerome by four lengths, both at Aqueduct.

“With the shift in the schedule and the Kentucky Derby pushed back four months, we’re really viewing this as our Kentucky Derby right now. It’s prestigious Grade 1 that’s very meaningful to his stallion potential. His sire won it, his dam’s sire won it, so it would be a huge feather in his cap to be able to add this to his resume,” Wellman said. “We’re treating this as though it’s the Kentucky Derby right now. Hopefully he’ll be able to use this to propel himself toward the first Saturday in September, but that’s a long way off. This is an important Grade 1 on the calendar right now.”

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners will also be represented by Soros, who is trained and co-owned by Gustavo Delgado. The son of Commissioner has been idle since breaking his maiden with a 2 ½-length victory in the Nov. 30 Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream. Soros had previously debuted with a second-place finish at Gulfstream Park West.

Joel Rosario is scheduled to ride Independence Hall for the first time Saturday, while Hall of Famer Edgar Prado will have the return mount aboard Soros.

Shadwell Stable’s Ajaaweed, who finished a close second in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct before finishing third in the Sam F. Davis; Screen Door Stables LLC’s As Seen On Tv, who lost a photo-finish in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream prior to his third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth; Jacks or Better Farm’s Shivaree, who finished second in the Swale (G3) and the Hutcheson in his two most recent starts; Frank Carl Calabrese’s Disc Jockey, a son of Bodemeister who finished second in a Feb. 17 starter stakes at Gulfstream; Martha Borchetta’s Sassy But Smart, who finished fourth on turf in the Palm Beach (G3) last time out; and Maria Ines Mejia’s My First Grammy, a maiden; round out the main body of the field. Calumet Farm’s Rogue Element, who finished second in a maiden special weight last time out, is an also-eligible entrant.

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