Run just five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, this Florida Derby looks to have one of the deepest fields the race has offered in some time. Probable starters Soldat, Dialed In, To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty are all among leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby with all appearing in Paulick Report’s Vinery LTD Derby Index, a top ten ranking of Kentucky Derby contenders as ranked by 28 turf writers and thoroughbred racing bloggers throughout North America. Soldat is ranked second behind leader Uncle Mo with Dialed In tallying the third most votes. To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty are ranked sixth and seventh respectively in the weekly poll.
Although Soldat, with his $510,000 in graded stakes earnings, is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby should he make it there, Stay Thirsty ($260,000), To Honor and Serve ($250,000) and Dialed In ($240,000) appear not to need more than a $50,000 fourth-place Florida Derby check that push them near the $300,000 mark believed to safely be enough to stamp a ticket to Louisville, Kentucky. But one can rest assured that the owners, trainers and jockeys in this race are thinking nothing short of the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle after the Florida Derby.
After all, since the Florida Derby was first run in 1953, ten winners have gone to take the Kentucky Derby including Big Brown (2008), Barbaro (’06), Monarchos (‘01), Thunder Gulch (1995), Unbridled (’90), Swale (’84), Spectacular Bid (’79), Forward Pass (’68), Northern Dancer (’64), Carry Back (’61) and Needles in 1956 (photo above). Of those, however, only Big Brown, Barbaro and Needles went directly from the Florida Derby to Kentucky.
Spectacular Bid, Forward Pass and Northern Dancer (photo left) all won the Bluegrass Stakes between their Florida and Kentucky victories and Tim Tam won the Derby Trial. Swale, Unbridled and Thunder Gulch also went to Lexington for the Blue Grass before the Derby, but finished second, third and fourth respectively in the Keeneland’s Bluegrass.
Monarchos, and Carry Back went to Aqueduct in New York to finish second in the Wood Memorial before going to Kentucky for their post race blanket of roses.
With the quality of the 2011 Florida Derby as high and deep as it is, one might also think a Florida Derby might be a must for Kentucky glory. However, nine Kentucky Derby winners ran in the Florida Derby but failed to win. Strike The Gold (’91), Cannonade (’74) and Venetian Way (’60) finished second in the Florida Derby before winning the big one in Kentucky. Foolish Pleasure (’75) and Iron Liege (’57) were third, while Go For Gin (’94) and Kaui King (’66) were both unplaced in Florida before their historical wins in Kentucky.
With five weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby on May 7, the pressure is surely beginning to mount in the shed rows of those with aspirations of taking the coveted race so there is no need to heap on additional albatross of a must win in Florida Sunday. Florida Derby probables Bowman’s Causeway, Arch Traveler and perhaps Flashpoint need the $600,000 first-place check for the needed graded earnings for Derby consideration. But for Soldat, Dialed In, To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty, the additional burden of a must-win is unnecessary.
That is unlikely to make much difference for their connections, however. Urgency is not a necessary ingredient for determination. And few run horse races to finish second.