How to Bet the Grade 1 Florida Derby

Profile Picture: Scott Shapiro

March 29th, 2018

The grand finale on the 14-race Saturday afternoon card at Gulfstream Park is the $1.1 million dollar Grade 1 Florida Derby.

The event for three-year-olds is conducted at a mile and an eighth and offers a total of 170 qualifying points (100 to the winner) on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard.

The Florida Derby marks the return of one of my top contenders for this year’s “Run for the Roses” in #8 Audible. The New York bred has won three straight since breaking last and finishing third in his debut sprinting at Belmont Park last September.

The $500,000 FTF March 2017 purchase took on graded stakes company for the first time in the Grade 2 Holy Bull last time out and could not have been much more impressive winning by five and a half lengths in the end. Despite that stellar performance, the son of Into Mischief comes into the Florida Derby in serious need of a first or second place effort in order to qualify for the .

It is likely that will have to come from a bit further out of it on Saturday since the pace should be quicker than what he encountered in the Holy Bull on February 3rd. However, that should not be an issue as long as jockey John Velazquez can avoid traffic issues and significant ground loss into the first turn.

The other runner in the field included in my Kentucky Derby Top Ten is #6 Catholic Boy. The son of More Than Ready raced over the turf in his first three starts for trainer Jonathan Thomas, including a fourth place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November. Despite the success on the sod, his connections opted to test the main track and he passed with flying colors winning the Grade 2 Remsen by four and three-quarter lengths to end his two-year-old campaign.

Catholic Boy disappointed his backers when he was unable to go by Flameaway in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis as the 1 to 2 favorite on February 10th, but I am more forgiving than others since he likely needed the race off the nine-week break. With a clean mid-pack trip on Saturday, the three-year-old colt has a shot to get back to the Gulfstream Park winners’ circle for the first time since breaking his maiden on debut last July.

The 2018 Florida Derby also includes the top two finishers in last month’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Both #1 Strike Power and #4 Promises Fulfilled are extremely likely to be in front of Audible and Catholic Boy in the early going, but where they finish may depend on how aggressive jockey Luis Saez is with Strike Power.

Last time out in the Fountain of Youth, Saez opted to stalk off the early pace of Promises Fulfilled, but given the inside draw and the fact Strike Power needs a top three finish on Saturday to earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gates

I expect Strike Power’s connections to be more aggressive in the early going. This could lead to a duel on the backstretch and a positive race shape for those coming from off the pace.

Of the two exiting the Fountain of Youth I prefer Strike Power. Promises Fulfilled had things his way last time out and does not need a top three finish to qualify for Louisville. He also appears extremely likely to regress of the career best 104 BRIS speed rating on March 3rd.

While I expect a logical contender to win the 2018 Florida Derby there are two less established colts that I think can hit the board and provide some value in the exotics.

#7 Hofburg overcame a wide voyage in his first start off a six-month layoff to win a maiden special weight event by a half-length for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. It is unlikely that Mott would move him right into a Grade 1 race if he did not think extremely highly of this Tapit colt. Beating this group is a lot to ask, but coming from off the pace to pick up a minor share is much more realistic.

#9 Mississippi has only won once in four starts, but has the look of a colt that will continue to improve as the distances get longer. He appeared defeated in his last start against high level optional claiming foes on February 4th, but he showed some real fight in losing by just a neck to fellow Florida Derby probable #5 Storm Runner. He will need to overcome the outside draw and avoid a battle upfront with Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled to be at his best, but if he does hitting the board seems well within his grasp.

Here is how I will wager on the Grade 1 Florida Derby:

$1 Trifecta Wheel

6+8 with 7+9 with 1+6+7+8+9 = $12

$1 Trifecta Wheel

6+8 with 1+6+7+8+9 with 7+9 = $12

$1 Superfecta Wheel

8 with 1+6 with 7+9 with 1+4+6+7+9= $12

$1 Superfecta Wheel

8 with 7+9 with 1+6 with 1+4+6+7+9 = $12

Total Budget = $48

Good luck on Saturday!