Final exam time arrives Saturday for Kentucky Derby hopefuls in Florida and 7,827 miles away in Dubai. In these two far-flung locations, contenders are intent on proving they’ll have what it takes to enter the Derby starting gate on May 4, a scant five weeks away.

Sports Illustrated cover: 1979 Kentucky Derby
1979 Florida Derby victor Spectacular Bid certified his greatness by going on to win the Kentucky Derby later that year.  (Image: Sports illustrated)

At Gulfstream Park, near Miami, a field of 11, including Hidden Scroll, Code of Honor, Bourbon War and Harvey Wallbanger are slugging it out for a $1 million purse and 100 Derby points for the winner in the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby. The 66th edition of the historic race highlights the Gulfstream winter/spring championship meeting. It’s expected to be one of the most contentious renewals yet of Gulfstream’s showcase for three year olds.

Florida Derby Success Often Leads to Kentucky Derby Success

How does the Florida Derby stack up against other Derby preps?

Racing fans are well aware that this race produces more Kentucky Derby winners than any other prep. Florida Derby conquerors, 15 in all, soon were sniffing the roses in the winners’ circle the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

The list is a who’s who of racing royalty with deep roots and recency to go along with it.

They are:

  • Needles (1956)
  • Tim Tam (1958)
  • Carry Back (1961)
  • Northern Dancer (1964)
  • Forward Pass (1968)
  • Spectacular Bid (1979)
  • Swale (1984)
  • Unbridled (1990)
  • Thunder Gulch (1995)
  • Monarchos (2001)
  • Barbaro (2006)
  • Big Brown (2008)
  • Orb (2013)
  • Nyquist (2016),
  • Always Dreaming (2017)

Speedy Favorite Breaking from the Rail

Hidden Scroll, electrifying winner of a maiden race on a wet track at Gulfstream in mid-January, was last seen in a speed duel, then faltering in the Fountain of Youth Stakes a month ago. He’s the projected 5/2 favorite from post position one. Fountain of Youth winner Code of Honor is 3/1 on the morning line and apparently ready for another A+ effort for trainer Shug McGaughey. Bourbon War, 7/2, made up significant ground sitting off the stiff fractions set by Hidden Scroll in the Fountain of Youth. His backers are noting how energetically he galloped out after the finish, meaning he appears eager to cover more ground, such as the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby.

Then there’s Harvey Wallbanger, His backers hope to raise their glasses in honor of the horse named after the popular 1970’s cocktail once again late Saturday. This upsetter in the Holy Bull, an earlier Derby prep on the Gulfstream stake’s schedule, is 15/1 on the morning line.

The Florida Derby additionally represents the closing race in the track’s Rainbow 6 wagering sequence. It’s a mandatory pay-out day and could produce a betting pool in excess of $8 million. The mandatory pay out for the minimum twenty cent base bet Saturday rewards all bettors picking the most winners in the sequence with the entire betting pool (less pari-mutuel takeout). Normally, the entire pool can only be won only if a single ticket has all six winners.

Estimated post for the event is 6:36 pm ET. For a complete list of entrants, riders and the complete morning line, click here.

$35 Million Race Day

The winner of the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse a third of the world away in Dubai will also net 100 Derby points. This race is 1 3/16 miles and worth $2.5 million and is part of Meydan’s Dubai World Cup undercard

Two US-based horses with prior involvement on the Derby trail are here — Gray Magician and Plus Que Parfait.

For the entire field of 14, the race represents a last gasp effort to earn enough Derby points to make the gate that first Saturday in May. Connections are well aware their horse will have to step up or step out of Derby consideration.

The UAE Derby is just part of the stakes-loaded Dubai World Cup program with $35 million — $12 million in the World Cup alone — in purses up for grabs, easily thoroughbred racing’s richest day. British-based and raced North America is the tepid 5/2 morning line favorite.

First post for the first race on eight-race card is 7:45 am ET. The UAE Derby is expected to go at 10:05 am ET and the World Cup at 12:40 pm ET. For a complete list of entries and morning line odds for all Dubai World Cup races, click here.

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