Florida-bred Holy Bull (Grade 3)-winner Hades, who was bred by Ocala Stud, Joseph M. O’Farrell III, David O’Farrell, et. al., was compromised early in Saturday’s Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill ‘n’ Dales Farms at Xalapa (G1) and finished fifth at odds of just more than 7-2. But the Ocala Stud team was redeemed somewhat when Fierceness romped home to take the winner’s share of the $1 million purse.

A graduate of the early training program at Ocala Stud and trained by Todd Pletcher for Repole Stable, Fierceness produced one of the more impressive Florida Derby performances in recent memory, winning by 13 1/2 lengths while under wraps from jockey John Velazquez. The son of City of Light finished the nine furlongs in 1:48.22 on the fast track.

It was the largest winning margin in Florida Derby history, eclipsing Empire Maker’s nine-and-three-quarters-lengths edge in 2003.

Sent to the post as the even money favorite Saturday, Fierceness will now head to the 150th edition of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 4 as the horse to beat.

Despite Hades’ disappointing racing luck that may cost him a chance at the Run for the Roses, it appears the Horse Capital of the World will have representation in the Kentucky Derby as Ocala’s Tami Bobo, George Isaacs and Julies Davies’ Catalytic finished second, earning 50 points on the Derby leaderboard. Catalytic is trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. and was ridden by Julien Leparoux.

Grand Mo the First was third, earning 25 points to bring his total to 40; and Conquest Warrior earned his first 15 Derby points for finishing fourth. Hades picked up 10 points for finishing fifth, giving him 30 Derby qualifying points. Fierceness earned 100 points for winning the Florida Derby to bring his total to 136.

Last year, King Russell was the last to make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate with 40 points. However, in 2022, eventual winner Rich Strike scratched into the Derby at the last minute with 20 qualifying points and Brooklyn Strong made it into the 2021 Derby with 10 points. So Hades may still have a chance.

After Derby standings were released Saturday night, Hades sits at No. 19 on the leader board with the upcoming Santa Anita Derby (G1), Blue Grass (G2), Wood Memorial (G2) and Lexington (G3) all offering Derby points.

The Florida Derby field was reduced to nine when Bail Us Out and Florida-bred Seminole Chief were scratched, helping Fierceness move in two spots in the starting gate to post eight.

Velazquez took advantage and gunned Fierceness to the front heading into the clubhouse turn with Le Dom Bro and Grand Mo the First to his inside. Hades broke evenly from post two but jockey Paco Lopez had to check the son of Ocala Stud stallion Awesome Slew when Grand Mo the First came over on him from his post four.

Fierceness had a length lead on Catalytic, Grand Mo the First and Le Dom Bro down the backside through comfortable quarter-mile fractions of :24.06 and :47.50. Fierceness began to extend his lead around the far turn as Catalytic took up the chase alone in second and Grand Mo the First kept third on the rail with Hades far back in ninth.

After six furlongs in 1:11.31, Fierceness began to gallop away from his rivals and was an apparent winner early in the lane. Catalytic and Grand Mo the First continued in second and third respectively as Hades had two horses beat when coming out of the turn seven-wide.

Velazquez was near motionless down the stretch as Fierceness galloped home in an relaxed victory.

“It was pretty easy. This is what I expected last time out of him,” Velazquez said. “He had been working lights out. He broke well today and I just let him have it. I let them come and get him and he dominated the whole race. When he got to the backstretch and switched to the turn, he picked it up and so I let him do it. He was comfortable. Then at the quarter pole, I gave him a little smooch and he picked it up right away. It was pretty easy.”

Pletcher was equally impressed.

“That was a pretty awesome performance. That’s what we see in the mornings when we breeze him, a special talent,” Pletcher said. “That’s why it was so perplexing his two races that he didn’t run brilliantly. He’s three times brilliant and two times has had off days.”

Fierceness paid $4.20 to win.

Meanwhile, Lopez experienced the opposite end of the opportunity spectrum with Hades.

“It was a terrible trip. I had a lot of trouble on the first turn and at the three-eighths [pole],” Lopez said. “[Hades] wasn’t handling the track today very well. I can’t believe it the way he was training here. I’m very surprised. He tried hard, but it was not like the last race.”

Frankie’s Empire, Iris’s Dream, Realy Macho and Le Dom Bro completed the order of finish.

Return to the March 30 issue of Wire to Wire

This article has been updated with additional information on current Kentucky Derby points and points needed to qualify for the Kentucky Derby in 2022 and 2021.