Ten Things You Should Know: Florida Derby
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Originally published on March 30, 2011
1) The Florida Derby is a race run at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida. It is restricted to 3-year-olds and is run at 1 1/8 miles. This year’s edition is part of the Kentucky Derby qualifying system with points being awarded to the top four finishers.
2) Along with the Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial, and Santa Anita Derby, the Florida Derby has been one of America’s most significant prep races for the Kentucky Derby for over fifty years.
3) The race was run for the first time at Gulfstream Park in 1952. Another race also named the Florida Derby was held at Tampa Downs in 1926. The Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park was originally called the Florida Derby from 1929 to 1937.
4) Since its first running, 19 colts who finished in the top three went on to win the Kentucky Derby including Orb, the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner.
5) Fourteen Florida Derby winners went on to win the Kentucky Derby; the last came in 2016 with Nyquist. The first Florida Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Needles, who won the fifth Florida Derby at Gulfstream in 1956. He also won that year’s Belmont Stakes.
6) In 1957, Gen Duke set a track, stakes, and world record for 1 1/8 miles in winning the Florida Derby. He did not start in the Kentucky Derby due to injury. His stakes record still stands.
7) In 1986, Snow Chief beat 15 colts in the Florida Derby — the largest field in the race’s history. He was beaten in the Kentucky Derby but returned to win the Preakness and was voted the 3-year-old champion that year.
8) Bull inthe Heather, recently pictured here, won the 1993 Florida Derby. The experimental rock band Sonic Youth wrote a song inspired by the colt called “Bull in the Heather” that appeared on their 1994 album Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star.
9) Barbaro won the Florida Derby in 2006 by a half length in the toughest race of his brief career. It was his fifth straight victory from the same number of career starts.
10) In 2017 John Velazquez notched his fourth Florida Derby win aboard Always Dreaming, breaking a six-way tie for leading wins. The five jockeys that have won the race three times are Bill Shoemaker, Willie Hartack, Jerry Bailey, Mike Smith and Edgar Prado. Smith (1994, 1995, 1996) and Hartack (1956, 1957, 1958) won their three in consecutive years.