Florida Derby (GI)

Gulfstream Park • Hallandale Beach, FL, USA 100-50-25-15-10
March 30, 2024


Two dozen Kentucky Derby winners. That’s right—between 1953 and 2017, a span of 65 years, the Florida Derby (G1) produced the Kentucky Derby winner on 24 occasions, a record of success unequaled by any other Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.

When writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr noted “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” he could very well have been writing about the Florida Derby. The race has barely changed at all since its inaugural running in 1952. It’s always been held over 1 18 miles at Gulfstream Park, and it’s always been a key steppingstone toward the Run for the Roses, producing multiple Kentucky Derby winners every decade. 

Ironically, the first Florida Derby participant to achieve fame under the Twin Spires went thoroughly unheralded at Gulfstream Park. After finishing 13th in the 1953 Florida Derby, Dark Star pulled off an unforgettable upset in the Kentucky Derby, stemming off a late charge from superstar Native Dancer to win by a head. 

In the decades to follow, Iron Liege (1956), Tim Tam (1958), Venetian Way (1960), Kauai King (1966), Cannonade (1974), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Strike the Gold (1991), and Go for Gin (1994) all followed Dark Star’s lead by turning defeat in the Florida Derby into victory at Churchill Downs. 

But winning both races has been an even more common feat, with the Florida Derby/Kentucky Derby frequently serving as a springboard to champion 3-year-old honors. The Florida-bred standout Needles was the first to complete the double 1956, followed by 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).

The 2010s saw continued success for the Florida Derby as Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017) parlayed triumphs in Gulfstream’s signature race into victories under the Twin Spires. Maximum Security (2019) also crossed the wire first in both races, but was disqualified from Kentucky Derby glory after causing interference on the far turn.

Since the 1950s, no Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race has come close to producing as many Kentucky Derby winners as the Florida Derby. It’s easy to see why the race ranks as a top-tier prep awarding points on a 100-50-25-15-10 split to the top four finishers.


By J. Keeler Johnson

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