Courtlandt Farms’ Greatest Honour will have a lot going for him in Saturday’s $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa.
The 3-year-old son of Tapit has shown a distinct fondness for the Gulfstream Park racetrack, over which he has won all three of his races during the Championship Meet. He also possesses a ground-devouring stride and a pedigree geared for stamina.
Oh, and the homebred colt happens to be trained by Shug McGaughey, a Hall of Famer who has done and won all that.
“I’m looking forward to running him,” McGaughey said. “He’s been a pleasure all winter. He’s never missed a beat. Things have sort of been the same. We just hope it continues.”
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, which has produced the winners of 60 Triple Crown events, will headline a program with 10 stakes, including the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and the $200,000 Pan American (G2) presented by Rood & Riddle. The blockbuster 14-race program will also be highlighted by a mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 pool, which is expected to swell into the multi-millions should the popular multi-race wager go unsolved through Friday. There will also be $750,000 guaranteed pools in the Late Pick 5 and Late Pick 4.
The Florida Derby will offer 170 qualifying points for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Greatest Honour, who followed up a Dec. 26 maiden score with victories in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (G3) and the Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2), was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite Wednesday after drawing Post No. 7 for the Florida Derby, which attracted a deep field of 11 3-year-olds. McGaughey is hoping his late-running powerhouse will follow the example of Orb, whom he saddled for late-rallying victories in the 2017 Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
“They’re two different horses that have the same running style,” said McGaughey, noting Greatest Honour’s more imposing physical stature. “They may look the same, but it’s just on paper.”
Greatest Honour, like Orb, possesses a strong late kick that has carried him to three straight victories in going-away fashion at 1 1/16-miles. After graduating by 1 ¼ lengths, the Kentucky-bred colt employed a furious stretch run to win by 5 ¾ lengths in the Holy Bull. Five lengths back in mid-stretch, Greatest Honour unleashed an eye-catching surge to catch frontrunner Drain the Clock and go on to score by 1 ½ lengths.
“I think he was doing – three times – what he wasn’t wanting to do – going a mile and a sixteenth over a speed-favoring track – and he was able to catch up all three times against pretty good company,” McGaughey said. “So, I am looking forward to getting him stretched out where maybe in the Florida Derby he’ll be laying like he was in the Holy Bull and not as far back as he was in the Fountain of Youth.”
Greatest Honour was winless in three starts last year, finishing third in his first two career starts at Saratoga and Belmont, both at seven furlongs, before finishing second in a photo finish at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 8 at Aqueduct.
“One of the things that impressed me was, with his pedigree and his make-up, he was able to make the races as early as he did, which was [September] at Saratoga,” McGaughey said. “And he was very effective in those two maiden races going seven-eighths.”
As impressed as McGaughey may be about how much Greatest Honour has achieved thus far, he is more excited about the future.
“He’s a big, tall horse. He’s grown a little over the winter. So, that will be fun watching him develop. His pedigree says he’ll run as far as you want him to run,” McGaughey said. “With his stride, I don’t think he’s a horse with a quick turn of foot, but when he gets going, he covers so much ground that he catches up in a hurry.”
Jose Ortiz has the return mount aboard Greatest Honour.
Shug McGaughey on Greatest Honour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFSH4HuwU00
With Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sending Spielberg to Gulfstream, the 70th running of the Florida Derby has the potential to turn into an East-meets-West showdown.
The son of Union Rags, who was rated second at 4-1 in the morning line after drawing Post. No. 10 is coming off a second-place finish behind Eclipse Award-winning Essential Quality in the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park for owners SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm LLC and Robert Masterson.
In his 2021 debut, Spielberg stumbled at the start of the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita before finishing fourth behind Baffert-trained winner Medina Spirit.
Spielberg had a productive six-race juvenile campaign, in which he finished second in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and third in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita before breaking his maiden in his fourth start. He went on to win the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) two starts later.
“He’s had a lot of races. Of all my horses, he’s had the most starts. He’s second to Concert Tour in money earned. He runs solid. He shows up,” Baffert said. “Once in a while he’ll run a flat race. He’s doing well and I think he will like the mile and an eighth. He sort of comes running, but he’s got to ship well and behave himself. And he’s got to break well. He can’t break like he did the last time.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano is scheduled to ride the Baffert trainee for the first time.
St. Elias Stable’s Known Agenda will hold the distinction of being the only horse in the Florida Derby field to own a decision over Greatest Honour. The son of Curlin defeated Greatest Honour by a head while graduating in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight race Nov. 8 at Aqueduct.
“He’s won at a mile and an eighth and he was able to beat Greatest Honour when he did that,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “The form from that maiden race has held up well. Overtook, who finished third that day, came back and was second in the Withers.”
Known Agenda, who drew Post No. 5 and was rated third at 5-1 in the morning line, is coming off a sharp 11-length optional claiming allowance victory Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park at the Florida Derby distance. After getting away last and finishing fifth in the Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, he was equipped with blinkers for the first time for his recent romp.
“He needed a little early focus. It definitely put his mind in the game a little bit,” Pletcher said. “He’s a horse we’ve always liked, and I think the further he gets to go, the stronger he’ll be.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., who teamed with Known Agenda for the first time in his recent win, has the return call.
Three Chimneys Farm and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ Collaborate is scheduled to make the leap from the maiden ranks to Grade 1 company in the Florida Derby. The son of Into Mischief graduated by 12 ½ lengths under wraps on the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) undercard while completing a one-turn mile in 1:36.35. The Kentucky-bred colt, who was purchased for $600,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, had finished a troubled fifth, beaten a length by victorious Democracy, in his six-furlong career debut over a sloppy track Feb. 6. McGaughey-trained Bears Watching, who finished third, a neck and a nose ahead of Collaborate, came back to graduate by 7 ¾ lengths in his next start.
“It would mean a lot to win. This horse has a lot of ability. What we’re asking him is a tall task, but it seems like he has the ability to overcome it,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said.
Tyler Gaffalione has the return mount aboard Collaborate, who is rated fourth at 6-1 in the morning line.
Michael Shanley’s Nova Rags, second behind stablemate Candy Man Rocket in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis (G3) last time out, will be given an opportunity by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott to prove he deserves Triple Crown consideration.
“We’ve opted to try the Florida Derby and just give him that one chance to see if we belong going on and moving forward and moving up the ladder. It’s a big race with 100 points [to the winner],” Mott said. “If he would qualify for the Kentucky Derby, then we’d have to consider it, but this is the race that’s going to tell us what we’re going to do with him.”
Junior Alvarado has the call aboard the son of Union Rags.
Live Oak Plantation’s Soup and Sandwich, undefeated in two starts, is scheduled to make the jump from a first-level optional claiming allowance to Grade 1 company Saturday. The son of Into Mischief is eligible to take a share of a $100,000 bonus offered to Florida-breds who finish first, second or third in the Florida Derby with 70 percent for a victory, 20 percent for a runner-up finish and 10 percent for a third-place finish.
Trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, Soup and Sandwich made an auspicious debut at Gulfstream Jan. 28, scoring by 7 ¼ lengths at 6 ½ furlongs. In his introduction to two-turn racing, Soup and Sandwich stalked the pace before drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths a month later at Tampa Bay Downs.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez is scheduled to ride Soup and Sandwich.
Magic Stables LLC’s Papetu, who finished third behind Greatest Honour in the Fountain of Youth, will return in the Florida Derby. The son of Dialed In made a strong middle move while forced to race very wide from his far outside post position but came up short in the stretch. He had finished second in the Mucho Macho Man and fourth in the Holy Bull in his two prior starts.
Trainer Antonio Sano also entered Gelfenstein Farm’s Sigiloso, who finished fifth on turf in the Palm Beach in his most recent start.
Emisael Jaramillo has the mount aboard Papetu, while Leonel Reyes will ride Sigiloso.
OGMA Investments LLC and Off The Hook LLC’s Jirafales, a strapping son of Social Inclusion who finished fifth in the Fountain of Youth; Lothenbach Stables Inc.’s Quantum Leap, a maiden winner at 1 1/8 miles in his last start at Gulfstream; and Robert Baron’s Southern Passage, second behind highly regarded Prevalence in an optional claiming allowance last time out; round out the field.
Edgard Zayas is scheduled to ride Jirafales; Miguel Vasquez has the call on Quantum Leap; and Corey Lanerie has the mount aboard Southern Passage.