Suddenly a Destination, Florida Derby Draws Loaded Field

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Tiz the Law | Lauren King

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Since its inaugural running in 1952, the GI Curlin Florida Derby has always been a stop along the journey for GI Kentucky Derby hopefuls–a chance for fine-tuning and finishing touches before horses take their best shots to Louisville. But this year, due to the postponement of the Run for the Roses and general uncertainty about what the rest of the racing calendar will look like as the world grapples with the coronavirus crisis, the Florida Derby is now a point of disembarkation for 3-year-olds, and it fittingly drew a stacked field of 12 horses Saturday, the penultimate day of the Gulfstream Park Championship Meet.

Heading the field as the likely favorite is Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law (Constitution), one of three major contenders representing 2019’s breakout freshman sire. Debuting with an open-length, geared-down victory against New York-breds last summer at Saratoga, the blaze-faced bay stepped into top-class company with no issue, rolling to a similar victory in the GI Champagne S. Opting to pass on a cross-country ship to the Breeders’ Cup, trainer Barclay Tagg instead entered his colt in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. at Churchill, where he was boxed in for much of the running before coming up short even when finding clear sailing, finishing third. Freshened for the winter, he came back running with a three-length victory over re-opposing Ete Indien (Summer Front) in the GIII Holy Bull S. here Feb. 1.

That win was flattered when Ete Indien came back to produce the most dominant performance of the prep season thus far, an 8 1/2-length wire-to-wire tour de force in the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. over this track Feb. 29. Originally starting his career with a pair of turf starts, the dark bay pulled a 14-1 upset in a local dirt optional claimer Dec. 20 before his runner-up effort in the Holy Bull. In the Fountain of Youth, the Patrick Biancone trainee had to cross over in front of the whole field on the short run into the clubhouse turn to establish command, and will likely have to do the same thing again after drawing the widest-out 12 post.

While Ete Indien has the biggest blowout win of the 3-year-old season, Independence Hall (Constitution) produced the most dazzling performance of all juveniles last year when romping by 12 1/4 lengths in the GIII Nashua S. Nov. 3 at Aqueduct with a 101 Beyer. Not quite as impressive while still winning off by four lengths in the Jerome S. Jan. 1 in Ozone Park, the Mike Trombetta pupil was second at 7-10 when last seen in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. Feb. 8 at Tampa, a race in which he had to chase and make the first move into a fast pace before being passed over the top by deep closer Sole Volante (Karakontie {Jpn}).

Rounding out the Constitution trio is ‘TDN Rising Star’ Gouverneur Morris, as trainer Todd Pletcher looks for his sixth Florida Derby score and fifth in the last seven years. Hammered down to odds-on debuting on a sloppy closing day at Saratoga, the gray romped by nine lengths and was second as the favorite in the GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity Oct. 5 at Keeneland before heading to the bench. Back in an optional claimer Feb. 14 at Tampa, the $600,000 Fasig-TIpton Gulfstream buy ground out a 1 1/4-length success while equaling the track record for a mile and 40 yards.

Fringe contenders include As Seen On Tv (Lookin At Lucky), who earned a 98 Beyer when second by a head in the local Mucho Macho Man S. before running third in the Fountain of Youth; and Ajaaweed (Curlin), runner-up in last fall’s GII Remsen S., who represents the final starter for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin before he moves on to become rider Luis Saez’s agent.

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