2008 Florida Derby Recap

Big Brown Romps Field in Florida Derby to Become Major Kentucky Derby Contender
by Kenneth Strong of Predictem.com

March 29, 2008 The Florida Derby looked like a reasonably tough test for Kentucky Derby contenders this year, but it turned out to be a little more difficult than intended - for every horse except Big Brown.

The undefeated 3-year-old kept his perfect record intact with an impressive wire-to-wire 5-length victory in the 57th running of the $1 million Florida Derby-G1 on Saturday, and in doing so he thumbed his nose at what might turn out to be a fake class raise, overcame post 12 and proved that talent can occasionally beat seasoning at least in Kentucky Derby prep races.


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Making only his third lifetime start and second under new jockey Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown pressed 3-wide on the first turn before clearing to the lead turning on to the backstretch. He was never seriously pressured at any time after that despite setting fast fractions of 22.76, 45.83 and 1:10.08. He increased his margin to 2 -lengths on the final turn, got the mile in 1:35.18 and greenly accelerated away from the field in the stretch to win by five lengths over Smooth Air. Tomcito advanced from last to finish third, 7 1/2-lengths behind Smooth Air. It was another 3 -lengths back to Hey Byrn. The final time for the 1 1/8-miles was 1:48.16 over a fast track, the second quickest Florida Derby since Unbridled Song won the race in 1996, and good enough for an excellent Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

On the surface some might wonder if the Florida Derby win was a front-running fluke, but a deeper look says the victory was as good as it looked on paper. Both second and third choices in the wagering stayed relatively close to the pace to the final turn and folded their tents like ordinary claimers while Big Brown was opening up.

Fountain of Youth runner up and second favorite Elysium Fields had a rough start but did end up stalking the winner from good position outside to the final turn. He then went straight backwards. Third choice Fierce Wind, a natural speed horse who proved he could rate with his resolute win in the Sam F Davis, pressed briefly early before taking up perfect position just back and inside the winner to the final turn at which time he also faded badly and ended up beaten 42 -lengths. Huh? Elysium Fields finished 11th, 1 lengths behind Fierce Wind.

While the jockeys aboard both Fierce Wind and Elysium Fields probably didnt ask too much of their mounts once they started going backwards, these horses were coming off good efforts and their beaten lengths in this race were almost shocking. Even though they stayed close to the fast pace, they shouldnt have been beaten over 40 lengths. Is it possible they both had something physically wrong with them in the Florida Derby, or did they just cook themselves chasing a fast pace set by a good horse?

Runner up Smooth Air saved ground in mid pack, advanced steadily on the final turn but was never any match for the winner, rather he might have been the only horse who saved his move for the right time and passed tired horses. Third-place finisher Tomcito, a Grade 1 winner in Peru, gave a decent account of himself in his first North American start, rallying from the back of the pack to finish third. A proven router, there is a slight chance he could improve enough to be an in-the-money play in the Derby if he even gets into the race. Last years Hopeful Stakes-G1 winner Majestic Warrior, who was expected to improve in his second start off the layoff, improved his position from 12th early to 6th beaten 18 lengths by the winner certainly nothing to make you think he might have a chance in the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

There just wasnt anything to talk about in the Florida Derby after the winner. Big Brown could indeed be one of those freaky good horses. In his first lifetime start at Saratoga against blue-blood maidens going 1 1/16-miles on the turf, he annihilated the field by 11 -lengths at 14-1 and received a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. That was his only start as a 2-year-old, as he later developed quarter cracks. In his first start as a 3-year-old On March 5 at Gulfstream Park, he obliterated a non-winners-other-than allowance field by 12 -lengths going a mile and received a 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

Big Brown had a lot to overcome in the Florida Derby. He was breaking from a tough wide post that has not produced one winner at Gulfstream Park going 1 1/8-miles in four years. He was making only his third lifetime start against seasoned horses. He was (we thought) moving up in class. And he was coming into the race off a lifetime best effort with only three weeks off. He handled all challenges with relative ease on Saturday, and subsequently became an immediate major contender in the 134th Kentucky Derby. He might even go off as the favorite.

A $190,000 purchase in April 2007 at Keeneland, Big Brown is not weak on pedigree either, with high class stamina on both sides. The 3-year-old colt by Boundary (Danzig)-Mien by Nureyev, is trained by Richard Dutrow for IEAH Stabled and Paul Pompa Jr.

Big Brown returned $5 to his backers, who obviously knew a good horse when they saw one.

Florida Derby Results and Payoffs

March 29, 2008 - 10th Race Gulfstream Park

12 Big Brown $5.00 $ $3.80 $3.20

2 Smooth Air $12.60 $7.60

4 Tomcito $6.20

9 Hey Byrn

$1 Exacta 12-2 paid $34.40

$2 Trifecta 12-2-4 paid $702.80

$1 Superfecta 12-2-4-9 paid $2,911.40