Several Derby Contenders With Florida Ties


LOUISVILLE, KY—Repole Stable’s homebred Fierceness, dominating winner of the Curlin Florida Derby (Grade 1) in his most recent start, has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite for the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

The Run for the Roses will highlight a 14-race program that begins at 10:30 a.m. EDT and features nine stakes races worth a combined $10.75 million. The Kentucky Derby, which will reward the winner with $3.1 million, is the 12th race of the day with a 6:57 p.m. post time.

Trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher and a graduate of the early training program at Ocala Stud in Ocala, Fla., Fierceness earned the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old in 2023 after a six-and-a-quarter-length victory in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile presented by TAA (G1) at Santa Anita in November.

Third in his 2024 debut in the Holy Bull (G3) won by Florida-bred Hades, Fierceness rebounded with a 13 ½-length victory in the Florida Derby.

John Velazquez, who has been aboard Fierceness for his past three starts, has the mount Saturday from post 17.

Like Pletcher, Velazquez is a multiple Derby winner. Velazquez won on Animal Kingdom in 2011, Authentic in 2020 and teamed with Pletcher to win the 2017 running with Always Dreaming. Pletcher’s other victory came with Super Saver in 2010.

Second choice on the morning line at 3-1 is Peter Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg and Brook Smith’s Sierra Leone, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) in his most recent start.

Trained by Chad Brown, Sierra Leone is three for four in his career and perfect in 2024 with his debut resulting in a victory in the Risen Star (G2).

Sierra Leone is one of two Derby entrants who received their early race training from David Scanlon’s Scanlon Training and Sales based at Reid Nagel’s Oak Ridge Training Center located in Morriston, Fla. along with Just a Touch. 

Davie Fla. native Tyler Gaffalione, who has been aboard Sierra Leone for both races this year, has the return mount on Sierra Leone from post two.

Brown also will saddle Klaravich Stables’ Domestic Product, winner of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount on Domestic Product from post 15.

Third choice on the morning line at 8-1 is Albaugh Family Stables’ Louisiana Derby (G2)-winner Catching Freedom, who was purchased as a yearling by Barry Berkelhammer and started at Berkelhammer’s Abracadabra Farm in Ocala.

Trained by Brad Cox, who saddled 2021 Derby-winner Mandaloun, Catching Freedom will be ridden by Flavien Prat from post four. Prat won the 2019 Derby on Country House.

Cox will saddle Qatar Racing, Resolute Racing and Marc Detampel’s Just a Touch, who is the co-fourth choice at 10-1 on the morning line.

Just a Touch, runner-up to Sierra Leone in the Blue Grass Stakes, will attempt to give Florent Geroux a second Derby victory to go with Mandaloun. Just a Touch will exit post eight.

Also at 10-1 on the morning line is Japanese invader Forever Young (Jpn).

Owned by Susumu Fujita and trained by Yoshito Yahagi, Forever Young is undefeated in five career starts and this year has won the Saudi Derby (G3) and the UAE Derby (G2).

Ryusei Sakai, who has been aboard Forever Young in all of his starts, will make his Kentucky Derby debut and start from post 11.

In addition to Pletcher and Cox, two other trainers will be trying to boost their victory totals in the Derby.

D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out BC Stables’ Just Steel (20-1), has four victories in the Run for the Roses. His first Derby winner was the filly Winning Colors in 1988 and then won with Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).

Keith Asmussen will make his Derby debut riding Just Steel from post six.

Bill Mott, who has Country House’s 2019 Derby victory on his resume, will saddle Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman’s Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino (G2)-winner Resilience (20-1). Mott has his winter training base at Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Fla.

Junior Alvarado has the mount from post 19.

Newly-minted Hall of Famer Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Derby on Orb, goes for his second Derby victory on L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom (20-1).

Breeze Easy is the nom du course of Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association board member Mike Hall.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Track Phantom won the Lecomte (G3) in January, was second in the Risen Star to Sierra Leone and fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) to Catching Freedom. Track Phantom drew post 12.

The Florida Derby runner-up is owned by Ocala’s Tami Bobo, FTBOA president George Isaacs and Julie Davies. He received his early training in Ocala from Davies. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was recently recognized by the FTBOA as the 2023 leading trainer of Florida-breds by earnings and tied as the 2023 leading trainer of Florida-bred black-type wins (4) and wins (49). 

Other Derby contenders with Central Florida ties include Dornoch, who received his early training from Raul Reyes at his King’s Equine in Ocala; Endlessly, also a graduate of Abracadabra Farm; Grand Mo the First received his early training from Keiber Rengifo’s Golden Rock Thoroughbreds in Ocala; Mystik Dan, trained by conditioner Ken McPeek at his Silverleaf Hills Training Center in Summerfield; Resilience, also a winter resident of Payson Park Training Center; and Society Man, a graduate of the early training program at Chetley and Nellie Breeden’s Grade One Investments located at Two Springs Farm in Micanopy.

The field for the Kentucky Derby, with riders and morning line odds from the rail out, is: Dornoch (Luis Saez, 20-1), Sierra Leone (Gaffalione, 3-1), Mystik Dan (Brian Hernandez Jr., 20-1), Catching Freedom (Prat, 8-1), Catalytic (Jose Ortiz, 30-1), Just Steel (Asmussen, 20-1), Honor Marie (Ben Curtis, 20-1), Just a Touch (Geroux, 10-1), T O Password (Jpn) (Kazuski Kimura, 30-1), Forever Young (Jpn) (Sakai, 10-1), Track Phantom (Rosario, 20-1), West Saratoga (Jesus Castanon, 30-1), Endlessly (Umberto Rispoli, 30-1), Domestic Product (Ortiz Jr., 30-1), Grand Mo the First (Emisael Jaramillo, 50-1), Fierceness (Velasquez, 5-2), Stronghold (Antonio Fresu, 20-1), Resilience (Junior Alvarado, 20-1), Society Man (Frankie Dettori, 50-1), Epic Ride (Adam Beschizza, 50-1). All starters will carry 126 pounds.

Return to the May 3 issue of Wire to Wire