Kentucky Derby Favorite Fierceness Wins Curlin Florida Derby

Catch up on the $1,000,000 Curlin Florida Derby with Dr. Gregory Beroza, aka HorseDoc ‘Talking Horses.’

Photo by GBeroza.

Fierceness romped in the $1,000,000 1-1/8 mile Curlin Florida Derby G1, winning by 13½ lengths on Saturday, March 30th at Gulfstream Racetrack. This is Hall of Fame-trainer Todd Pletcher’s record eighth Florida Derby win. With veteran Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Velazquez aboard, Fierceness won by a record-breaking margin. He led from the first turn by 1 and 1-1/2 lengths and then found another gear going into the final turn for the finish wire. Post-race Pletcher remarked that this was “an awesome performance,” much like he sees when Fierceness breezes in his morning workouts. He now has the largest number of points (136) going into the Kentucky Derby.

Pletcher has been perplexed with why Fierceness has run anything less than brilliant. Although Fierceness was the 2023 Eclipse Award recipient after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Race, he finished a disappointing third in the February 2nd Holy Bull-G2 Stakes at Gulfstream Racetrack, believed due to a bad start out of the gate.

Fierceness in the paddock before the race. Photo by GBeroza.

Fierceness is owned by Repole Stable and follows a seemingly back-to-back trajectory like Repole’s 2023 Florida Derby winner Forte. As happened last year, Fierceness will probably go into the Kentucky Derby as the favorite. Mike Repole declared winning the Florida Derby two years in a row to be “Surreal!” He remarked how difficult it is to win this race once, and how extraordinary it is to win it two years in a row. Based upon Fierceness’s previous inconsistencies, Repole was prepared for whatever the results were to be.

Fierceness leads into the first clubhouse turn. Photo by RThompson/NYRA.

Velazquez stated that the winning trip was “pretty easy” as he experiences in his morning workouts and not what he anticipated in the Holy Bull. Coming out of the gate cleanly, Fierceness took the lead at the first turn and retained lead control for the rest of the race. Fierceness appeared to finish the Florida Derby without having a difficult duel with any contenders. This was Velazquez’s sixth Florida Derby win, his fourth for trainer Todd Pletcher, and his first for Repole Stables. Repole and Pletcher have teamed up twice to win the Florida Derby. Fifteen of the previous Florida Derby winners have gone on to win the prestigious Kentucky Derby, to be run in 2024 on May 4th.

Jockey JVelazquez after Fierceness win. Photo by RThompson/NYRA.

Catalytic, trained by Gulfstream’s leading trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., was ridden by Julien Leparoux to a second-place finish. His current 50 points may be enough to qualify Catalytic for an entry spot in the Kentucky Derby. Saffie stated, “Nothing was going to beat the winner (today).”

Third place finisher, Grand Mo the First, ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, earned 25 points, now raising his number to 40. His trainer Victor Barboza hopes that he has enough points to gain entry into the Kentucky Derby.

Shug McGaughey trained Conquest Warrior (15 points), ridden by Jose Ortiz, finished a close fourth.

Repole’s final words summarize the ups and downs of horseracing: “We saw something pretty special today;” however, “A lot can happen from now til post time [for the upcoming Kentucky Derby].”

You can see all the pre-race interviews below:

Dr. Gregory A. Beroza, DVM, DACVS, DABVP has been a practicing veterinarian and consultant for 42 years; and HorseDoc® ‘Talking Horses’® media host, author, and consultant since 2007. Dr. Beroza is a multimedia host and broadcasts his productions, including a new Podcast, via his WuzUpDoc Media website: He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and other social media sources.

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