Catalytic and Grand Mo the First May Run in Kentucky Derby
Florida-bred Hades Comes Out of Race in Good Order


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Repole Stable’s Fierceness was looking good to Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher Sunday morning following his record-breaking 13 ½-length triumph in $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (Grade 1) Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s super. He came back really well. He cooled out really quickly and seemed to recover really well,” Pletcher said Sunday. “He looked good this morning.”

A graduate of the early training program at Ocala Stud, Fierceness, who was voted 2023 2-year-old male champion after bouncing back from a subpar effort in the Champagne (G1) with a six-and-a-quarter-length score in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile presented by TAA (G1), was coming off a disappointing third-place finish in the Feb. 2 Holy Bull (G3) won by Florida-bred Hades at Gulfstream.

During the past 15 years only two horses ran faster than Fierceness while winning the Florida Derby – Pletcher trainees Always Dreaming (1:47.47 in 2017), who went on to win the Kentucky Derby (G1), and Quality Road (1:47.72 in 2009).

The son of City of Light provided Pletcher with his record-extending eighth Florida Derby victory while pushing Velazquez’s record number of wins in Gulfstream’s signature Triple Crown prep to six.

“All the wins are special in their own right. Some were really close and [Saturday] was clearly not. They’re all rewarding, but [Saturday’s] was the most visually impressive,” Pletcher said. “The final time wasn’t as fast as Always Dreaming, but it was not as fast a track as it was that day.”

After collecting 100 qualifying points for his Curlin Florida Derby score, Fierceness currently sits atop the standings for the May 4 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) with 136 points.

“I have to do some more research. As I understand it, Churchill has a new rule this year that you have to be on the grounds the Saturday before the Derby. So, you have to be on the grounds for a week,” Pletcher said. Fierceness is stabled at Palm Beach Downs.

“He had his final breeze for the Florida Derby eight days before the race. I moved it up one day because we had that rain coming, and we were able to get it in before the rain,” he added. “If I were to have his final breeze eight days out, that gives me some options. If his final breeze is seven days out that locks you into committing to do it at Churchill. We’ve got to think that through a little bit.”

Catalytic, who is owned by Ocala’s Tami Bobo, Julie Davies and George Isaacs and was second in the Florida Derby, exited his stakes debut in good order despite sporting a ‘superficial cut on a front ankle,’ trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said Sunday morning.

“Normally when you get beat 13 lengths, you won’t be too happy. But we were beaten, obviously, by a special horse. I thought there were some good horses that finished behind him, so that’s what makes me feel like he ran well,” Joseph said. “At the quarter-pole it looked like he was going to be second, but I also have seen them fade after chasing a good horse. I thought he continued on well enough. He was in a different race, and he beat the other horses. [Fierceness] is in different class when he’s on his ‘A’ game.”

Catalytic earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his runner-up finish, virtually clinching a berth in the field for the first leg of the Triple Crown.

“I think we’re going to train towards it and see how the horse does. If he gives us the right signs, I think the horse will run,” Joseph said.

Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. expressed his intention to run Granpollo Stable’s Grand Mo the First in the Kentucky Derby following the son of Uncle Mo’s third-place finish Saturday. Grand Mo the First, who finished third in the March 9 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2), boosted his Kentucky Derby points total to 40 with his finish in the Florida Derby that was worth 25 points.

J. Stable LLC and Robert Cotran’s Hades was never a serious factor after being bumped at the start and racing wide in the Florida Derby. Undefeated in his first three career starts, the gelded son of Ocala Stud resident Awesome Slew finished fifth.

“We had to go to Plan B. I kind of knew Fierceness was going to go. He’s a good horse and they got to get him interested. So, just sit behind him, and if he backs up to us a little bit, fine. I think we would have been lying second,” trainer Joe Orseno said. “Hey, the horses that were 1-2-3 finished 1-2-3. I dropped back to last on the turn and circled horses 10-wide and still passed horses in the stretch.”

Despite the less-than-ideal trip, Hades came out of the Florida Derby in good order.

“He came back sound and scoped clean. We’re going to press on and see what happens,” Orseno said. “We’ll see what happens in the races next weekend and decide what we’re doing. We have 30 points, so I don’t know if that will be enough.”

Return to the March 31 issue of Wire to Wire