Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park boasts Kentucky Derby favorite Forte among a field of 12. It’s part of a 14-race card that boasts 10 stakes races. Let’s Meet the Contenders for the 2023 Florida Derby:
#1 Jungfrau (Paco Lopez // Bill Mott) 20-1
Son of Pegasus World Cup winner Arrogate’s only victory came over this track via disqualification on New Year’s Eve. Trainer Bill Mott bypassed the Florida Derby with Holy Bull winner and Fountain of Youth runner-up Rocket Can, who ships to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby instead of a rematch with Forte.
#2 West Coast Cowboy (Sonny Leon // Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 20-1
This son of Pegasus World Cup runner-up West Coast finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes at 58-1 in February. One of 4 trainees for Joseph in this field as he seeks back-to-back Florida Derby wins (White Abarrio ’23). Jockey Edgard Zayas jumps to ride stablemate Mr. Ripple. Last year’s Kentucky Derby-winning Sonny Leon looks to land a mount for a repeat run at the roses.
#3 Shaq Diesel (Miguel Vasquez // Renaldo Richards) 30-1
10th at 184-1 odds in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, the ex-claimer will be among the longest shots in the field. He does own a pair of local victories, but both were in 7-furlong sprints. Equipment change to blinkers off Saturday.
#4 Mage (Luis Saez // Gustavo Delgado) 10-1 ** pictured above **
Matches Nautical Star and Mr. Peeks as the most lightly raced entrants in this year’s Florida Derby with only 2 prior starts. Smashing debut sprint winner was a respectable fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes when 6-3/4 lengths behind Forte, but just over 2 lengths out of the exacta. He’s a grandson of Preakness winner Curlin, whose stallion career sponsors this race … and also a grandson of 2008 Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. Jockey Luis Saez won this race on the front end in 2019 with Maximum Security. Expect this one near the early lead from a good post draw.
#5 Mr. Peeks (Edwin Gonzalez // Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 30-1
Maiden matches Mage and Nautical Star as the most lightly raced entrants in this year’s Florida Derby with only 2 prior starts. He did not debut until Feb. 11 and has never raced beyond 6 furlongs. He was privately purchased after his March 12 runner-up and moved from trainer Ian Wilkes. One of 4 trainees for Joseph in this field as he seeks back-to-back Florida Derby wins (White Abarrio ’23). He could be the early pace leader.
#6 Nautical Star (Leonel Reyes // Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 30-1
Another recent purchase after a promising maiden victory at Oaklawn on February 18. This Oklahoma-bred matches Mage and Mr. Peeks as the most lightly raced entrants in this year’s Florida Derby with only 2 prior starts. And, like Mr. Peeks, his pair of starts both came at just 6 furlongs. One of 4 trainees for Joseph in this field as he seeks back-to-back Florida Derby wins (White Abarrio ’23).
#7 Il Miracolo (Jesus Rios // Antonio Sano) 30-1
Son of Pegasus World Cup winner Gun Runner is the only horse in 2023 to start in all 4 of Gulfstream’s Triple Crown preps – but he has finished out-of-the-money in the Mucho Macho Man, Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth to date. His 8 career starts match Shaq Diesel for most in the field. Equipment change to blinkers on Saturday, and it may be worth noting he’s had back-to-back bullet workouts since adding the hood.
#8 Mr. Ripple (Edgard Zayas // Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 30-1
Son of 2011 Florida Derby winner Dialed In has been right up on the pace in all 3 starts, including a pair of recent allowance placings. He was third to Florida Derby foe Cyclone Mischief in January, a race that also produced Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis winner Litigate. One of 4 trainees for Joseph in this field as he seeks back-to-back Florida Derby wins (White Abarrio ’23).
#9 Cyclone Mischief (Javier Castellano // Dale Romans) 8-1
Fountain of Youth Stakes pacesetter and third-place finisher likely will have speed to his inside Saturday to set the table, though stands a chance to get hung wide on the clubhouse turn if he doesn’t establish some position. Made some amends in the FoY for a disastrous seventh in the Holy Bull as the 6-5 betting favorite. Jockey Javier Castellano jumps off Mage to ride. Castellano won this race with Constitution in 2014. Into Mischief also sired 2018 Florida Derby winner Audible.
#10 Fort Bragg (Joel Rosario // Tim Yakteen) 5-1
The last California-based Florida Derby winner was Nyquist in 2016, who brought championship credentials eastward. Fort Bragg exits non-threatening third and fifth-place finishes in the Los Al Futurity and San Felipe behind California’s top sophomore (and temporary stablemate) Practical Move. The Bob Baffert transfers have yet to find success on the 2023 trail. Tapit also sired 2014 Florida Derby winner Consititution. This one scratched from last Sunday’s Sunland Park Derby when it was assumed the Florida Derby was coming up with a short and non-competitive field to tackle Forte. That’s changed somewhat.
#11 Forte (Irad Ortiz, Jr. // Todd Pletcher) 4-5
The last 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to win the Florida Derby was Nyquist in 2016 – prior to that was Unbridled’s Song in 1996. Trainer Todd Pletcher owns the Florida Derby record with 6 victories all-time, most recently 2021 when Known Agenda also was piloted by Irad Ortiz, Jr. Forte rides a 4-race winning streak that includes 3 Grade 1s and a Grade 2 in the local Fountain of Youth. His late-running style figures to get much more early speed to set it up here than in the FoY. If not for the unexpected large field size, he likely would have been the shortest priced favorite in this race since Spectacular Bid was .05 on the dollar in 1979. Still, he may go off as low as 2-5.
#12 Dubyuhnell (Jose Ortiz // Danny Gargan) 6-1
Remsen Stakes winner is 2-for-2 on wet tracks and well-beaten in a pair of races on fast tracks, most recently the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. The last Remsen winner at age 2 to add the Florida Derby was Thunder Gulch in 1994-’95. The Florida Derby will be his first trip over the Gulfstream oval, though he has been based at nearby training centers all winter. Jockey Jose Ortiz piloted Known Agenda to the 2021 Florida Derby winner’s circle.