By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Tiz The Law, vying for Kentucky Derby favouritism with European bookmakers before the race was postponed, gets his shot at G1 glory on Saturday in a red-hot edition of the Florida Derby.
Without question, the $750,000 contest is one of the principal trials for the ‘Run for the Roses’, having been won by subsequent Kentucky winners Nyquist (2016) and Always Dreaming (2017) – plus Maximum Security, first past the post before his controversial disqualification 12 months ago.
With the Kentucky Derby postponed until September 5, it is anybody’s guess how significant this year’s Gulfstream Park contest will be as a guide. One thing’s for sure, though: it is a prestigious event in its own right, offering an early G1 opportunity to the three-year-old division.
The 1m1f race provides the focal point of a sensational 14-race programme at Gulfstream on Saturday featuring 10 stakes and nearly $2 million in total prize-money.
A pair of G2s, the Gulfstream Park Oaks and the Pan American (featuring Pegasus Turf winner Zulu Alpha), offer highlights on the undercard; the full meeting will be shown on Sky Sports Racing in Britain.
Tiz The Law (Barclay Tagg/Manny Franco) returned to action this term with an impressive three-length Holy Bull victory over Saturday’s rival Ete Indien, who franked the form with an eye-catching 8½-length front-running victory in the Fountain of Youth.
The Florida Derby winner will earn 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. “One of the big reasons is we want to get our points and then not have to worry about that and hopefully keep him healthy and sound so we’re able to actually run the race on the first Saturday in September,” said Jack Knowlton, managing partner of owners Sackatoga Stable, who campaigned Tagg-trained Funny Cide to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2003.
Second favourite Ete Indien (Patrick Biancone/Florent Geroux) has drawn the outside gate in a maximum 12-runner field. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled a record five Florida Derby winners, will be represented by Gouverneur Morris (John Velazquez) and Candy Tycoon (Javier Castellano) while Independence Hall (Michael Trombetta/Joel Rosario) bids to regain the winning thread after losing his unbeaten record last time at Tampa Bay.
Shall we talk about it?
“I thought it was a good comeback. It wasn’t a cupcake field and he has trained strongly since then. We weren’t 100 percent sure what his next start was going to be, but based on the strength of his last breeze and the fact that the Florida Derby is right in front of us we felt like we better go ahead and go now. He’s training as well as ever. I thought in particular his last breeze was the one we were hoping for and kind of sold us on the time to go is now.”
Todd Pletcher (trainer)
Tiz The Law
“He certainly proved in his last race that he can run off a layoff, so I don’t think there’s any question about that. He showed he liked the track there at Gulfstream and probably the top competitor there is a horse that we beat in Ete Indien. We beat him going a mile and a sixteenth and I think our horse is absolutely well suited to go more than a mile and a sixteenth. A mile and an eighth, I don’t think is any challenge to him at all.”
Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable (owners)
“Some circumstantial things went against him in the Sam Davis. He got beat that day on the square, but if you consider the trouble that he had in that race, between the tongue tie and losing his right front shoe, the race shape and set-up playing against him, I thought it was a really strong effort. He’s never run a bad race and since that time we’ve really put a circle around the Florida Derby and he’s trained exceptionally well. We’ve got reason to expect him not to show up and run his ‘A’ race come Saturday.
“With the shift in the schedule and the Kentucky Derby pushed back four months, we’re really viewing this as our Kentucky Derby right now. It’s prestigious Grade 1 that’s very meaningful to his stallion potential. His sire won it, his dam’s sire won it, so it would be a huge feather in his cap to be able to add this to his resume. We’re treating this as though it’s the Kentucky Derby right now. Hopefully he’ll be able to use this to propel himself toward the first Saturday in September, but that’s a long way off. This is an important G1 on the calendar right now.”
Aron Wellman, spokesman for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (owners)
“The last race was an improved performance by him. He’s one that we’ve kind of had high hopes for. He’s kind of frustrated us a little bit because he trained a little better than he had been running in the afternoons but that was kind of the first time he settled off the pace a little bit. He seemed to make a move forward doing that. This race on paper appears to have plenty of pace so it could be a good setup for him, but once again he needs to step up and make another move forward to get a piece of it.”
Todd Pletcher (trainer)
“I don’t think he has a problem with stamina. He’s very manageable – the other day [in the Fountain of Youth], we had to ask him to get out of a bad hole. When he got the lead, he relaxed immediately and he was very manageable. Florent said he came back to him very nicely. He slowed down and relaxed. The horse keeps improving from race to race. Hopefully, he’ll keep improving and we should have a really good horse in the summer.”
Patrick Biancone (trainer)
• More about the Florida Derby at gulfstreampark.com