Catalytic – ©Nicole Thomas/Coglianese Photo


Florida Connection: Owners Tami Bobo, Julie Davies, and George Isaacs are from Ocala, Florida area. Bobo owns First Finds, a pinhooking operation and farm, and George Isaacs is the general manager of historic Bridlewood Farm. In addition to being a co-owner, Davies also provided the early training for Catalytic. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. is Florida-based racing at Gulfstream Park and is the 2023 leading Florida trainer by earnings with more than $2 million and co-leading trainer by black-type wins and overall wins.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.

Owners:  Tami Bobo, Julie Davies, and George Isaacs

Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $216,825

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 90

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Catalina Cruiser – One Show Only, by Distorted Humor

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Catalytic outran his 29-1 odds to finish second in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on March 30, punching his ticket to the Kentucky Derby where he’ll need to outrun what are very likely to be even longer odds to finish in the money. He won his only start last year at age 2 in a sprint race and returned in another sprint to check in second on March 8, before attempting two turns and a major class hike in the Florida Derby. In that race, Catalytic raced behind pacesetting Fierceness throughout and was no match for that foe, who won by 13 ½ lengths, but he also finished a clear second, 2 ½ lengths in front of Grand Mo the First. Outside of Fierceness, Catalytic has not competed against any of the leading 3-year-olds this spring, and he would have to increase his speed figures by about 15-20 points to be a factor during the closing stages of the Kentucky Derby. A far more likely scenario has Catalytic involved in the early pace setup, which could speed up the early fractions in the Derby and help come-from-behind horses such as Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom.

Derby History: Catalytic’s co-owner Tami Bobo also co-owned 2022 Derby fourth-place finisher Simplification. Saffie Joseph will bring his third horse to the Kentucky Derby this year. Jockey Jose Ortiz has made eight prior starts in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second aboard Good Magic in 2018 and third a year later on Tacitus. He also rode Simplification in 2022.



Fierceness – ©Nicole Thomas


Florida Connection: Trainer Todd Pletcher’s family are in the business in Ocala, Florida. His father JJ Pletcher has a training center. The horse also received early training at the oldest active Thoroughbred farm in the state, Ocala Stud, under the tutelage of Joseph, David, and Mike O’Farrell. This means Fierceness trained on the very track famed Florida-bred Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled trained, passing the turn where dreams are made, Dreamer’s Point.

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Repole Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,703,850

Earnings per start: $340,770

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Kentucky Derby points: 136

Pedigree: City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If Fierceness brings his “A” game to Churchill Downs on May 4, all of the other contenders in Kentucky Derby 150 could be competing for second. He’s shown elite talent on the track three times through his five career starts dating back to last summer at Saratoga, when he won his debut easily in a sprint race. His subsequent two wins going longer have been even more impressive, as he thrashed an accomplished field of 2-year-olds in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance back in November, and then in his final Kentucky Derby prep, romped in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on March 30. Fierceness’ three wins have come by a combined 31 lengths – but then there are his two other starts to consider, a defeat by 20 ¼ lengths last October when seventh in the Champagne Stakes, and a third-place dud in his 3-year-old debut back in February in the Holy Bull Stakes. If you adhere to the good/bad alternating start theory, Fierceness could be in for a letdown on Kentucky Derby day coming off of his Florida Derby blowout. On the other hand, there are legitimate excuses for both of his defeats (a sloppy track in the Champagne Stakes, and perhaps he wasn’t fully cranked up for his 2024 debut in the Holy Bull). This colt has been training superbly in Florida since his victory in March and has a three-time Derby winner riding him in John Velazquez. Velazquez has been aboard Fierceness for both of his two-turn wins and knows that he’s most effective when forwardly placed and close to the early lead. Look for this colt to make a bid for the lead on the far turn of the Kentucky Derby and attempt to separate from the field at the top of the stretch under strong handling from his rider. If Fierceness is not in that position by the stretch call, his win chances will diminish considerably.

Derby History: Owner Mike Repole has been a regular presence in the Kentucky Derby and other big races over the past dozen years or so, and his best finish in the Kentucky Derby came in 2022, when eventual Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal finished fifth for Repole and Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing. Todd Pletcher, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame and an eight-time Eclipse Award winner, holds the record with 64 Kentucky Derby starters prior to this year. He won the race in 2010 with Super Saver and 2017 with Always Dreaming, and has finished second twice and third four times. Fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez’s three Kentucky Derby wins have come from 25 mounts: Animal Kingdom (2011), Always Dreaming, and Authentic (2020). He has also finished second twice in the Derby.



Grand Mo the First – ©Lauren King

Grand Mo the First

Florida Connection: He earned enough qualifying points for the Derby in Florida in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in early March and finished third. His trainer hails from Venezuela, Victor Barboza Jr., and he has been a previous leading trainer from his homebase at Gulfstream Park. His jockey , fellow Venezuelan Emisael Jaramillo moved to Florida in 2015. Jaramillo is the all-time leading rider in Venezuela, having won his nation’s Triple Crown three times out of the eight crowns. He rode in his first Kentucky Derby in 2016.

Jockey: Emisael Jaramillo

Trainer: Victor Barboza Jr.

Owner: Granpollo Stable

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $214,650

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Lilies So Fair, by Giant’s Causeway

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This well-bred colt moved into the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby April 21 when the connections of Deterministic announced they would bypass the May 4 classic and target a race in New York for that colt’s next start. Grand Mo the First earned enough Derby qualifying points to sit on the starting-field “bubble” by finishing third in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in early March (only a neck behind winner Domestic Product) and then third again in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa at the end of March. Unlike his run in the Tampa Bay Derby, Grand Mo the First was no threat whatsoever in the Florida Derby, finishing 16 lengths behind dominant victor Fierceness and 2 ½ lengths back from fellow longshot and runner-up Catalytic. He’s related to some successful racehorses on both dirt and turf who excelled at longer distances, but Grand Mo the First appears to be overmatched against the leading Kentucky Derby contenders based on career accomplishments and speed figures. He would need a pace meltdown to occur in order to have any chance at picking off some tired horses late and hitting the board against this field.

Derby History: This is the first Kentucky Derby appearance for Grand Mo the First’s owner and trainer, and the second for Florida-based jockey Emisael Jaramillo.



Sierra Leone – ©Coady Media

Sierra Leone

Florida Connection: The horse trains in South Florida at the famed Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center known as Club Med for horses, in Indiantown. The track is rated as one of the top five dirt tracks in the country. Part of the horse’s ownership, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Westerberg, have had success with Florida-breds including 2021 Florida Horse of the Year Golden Pal.

Another Florida connection is that the horse had his early training at Scanlan Training. Ocala horseman David Scanlon has an impressive list of training graduates for Godolphin, Coolmore, Don Alberto, and Calumet Farm. His operation is also represented in the Derby from his sales division, Scanlon Training & Sales, where he pinhooked G3 Gotham runner-up Just a Touch.

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owners: Peter Brant, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, and Brooke Smith

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $918,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Kentucky Derby points: 155

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The leading Kentucky Derby points earner for 2024 should vie for post-time favoritism with Fierceness, and this well-bred, expensive colt has a running style that’s in contrast to his main Derby rival. Sierra Leone is a deep closer who will need some racing luck by way of a solid early pace and a clean trip in order to put forth his best effort on Derby day. He’ll be positioned near the back of the large field early on in the race and probably won’t be given his cue to rally by jockey Tyler Gaffalione until the field enters the far turn at Churchill Downs – at which time Fierceness may have already moved up to challenge for the lead. Sierra Leone, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a yearling in 2022, has assembled a nearly perfect race record through four career starts. His only defeat came by a nose last December to Kentucky Derby foe Dornoch in the Remsen Stakes, and he’s won both of his starts this year – the Risen Star Stakes and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes – with impressive off-the-pace rallies. His pedigree is a plus for handling the Kentucky Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance, and his speed figures are competitive with the top Derby contenders. Look for him to be surging into contention as the field turns for home, angling to the outside of horses to avoid any tiring runners that could block his momentum. If he can do that, Sierra Leone can live up to his billing and win the Kentucky Derby.

Derby History: Chad Brown will send his eighth and ninth horses to the Derby starting gate this year, with Domestic Product joining Sierra Leone. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer has two prior in-the-money Derby finishes: runner-up Good Magic in 2018 and third-place Zandon in 2022. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, an 11-time leading rider at Churchill Downs, will make his seventh Derby start; his best finish came aboard seventh-place War of Will in 2019. Sierra Leone’s owners have entered horses in several prior Derbys over the years either alone or through other partnerships, most successfully in 1984 when Peter Brant owned an interest in victor Swale and in 1995 when Michael Tabor’s Thunder Gulch won the Derby. In 2004, Lion Heart finished second for the partnership of Tabor and Derrick Smith.


Resilience (in back inside) – ©Coady Media photo


Florida Connection: Resilience trains at the famed Payson Park in Florida. The horse received both his two-year-old early schooling and later workouts between races there. His jockey Junior Alvarado got his start in South Florida at Calder Race Course and made his home there until he joined the jockey colony in New York a few years later.

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $494,630

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 110

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Meadowsweet, by Smart Strike

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt has continued to improve during early 2024 and has a chance at hitting the board in the Kentucky Derby if he continues on that trajectory. Resilience enters off of a 2 ¼-length win in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6, a race in which he saved ground for most of the 1 1/8 miles before moving a few positions outside and taking command entering the stretch under John Velazquez. Prior to the Wood Memorial, Resilience finished a solid fourth in the Risen Star Stakes back in February – a race that as it turns out was the best Kentucky prep of this year’s series, as Sierra Leone, Track Phantom, and Catching Freedom filled out the top three positions. The Risen Star was Resilience’s stakes debut and came one start after he posted a dominant win in a maiden race on New Year’s Day. Resilience has one of the best pedigrees in the 2024 Kentucky Derby field for handling the race’s taxing mile-and-a-quarter distance and his forwardly placed running style should be an advantage as well. He gets a new jockey for the Kentucky Derby in Junior Alvarado, as John Velazquez has the mount on Fierceness.

Derby History: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the reigning Eclipse Award winner, earned his first Kentucky Derby win in 2019 via disqualification when Country House, who finished second to Maximum Security, was elevated to first minutes after the race by Kentucky racing stewards due to Maximum Security interfering with several horses at the top of the stretch. That victory is Mott’s only in-the-money finish in 12 starts to date. Alvarado will be making his fifth Derby start.

Return to the April 24 issue of Wire to Wire