The Florida Derby is Saturday at Gulfstream Park. This contest has, astonishingly, produced 24 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 two dozen occasions, a record of success unequaled by any other Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.
The race has barely changed since its inaugural running in 1952. It’s always been held over 1 1⁄8 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.
The first Florida Derby participant to achieve fame under the Twin Spires went unnoticed at Gulfstream Park. After finishing 13th in the 1953 Florida Derby, DARK STAR pulled off an unforgettable upset in the Kentucky Derby, holding off a late charging 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 suit by turning defeat in the Florida Derby into Victory at Churchill Downs.
But the more common achievement has been Winning both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
The Florida-bred standout NEEDLES was the first to complete the double 1956, followed by CARRY BACK (1961), NORTHERN DANCER (1964), FORWARD PASS (1968), SPECTACULAR BID (1979), SWALE (1984), UNBRIDALED (1990), THUNDER GULCH (1995), MONARCHOS (2001), BARBARO (2006), BIG BROWN (2008).
The 2010s brought continued success for Florida Derby Winners as ORB (2013), NYQUIST (2016), and ALWAYS DREAMING (2017) parlayed triumphs in Gulfstream’s signature race into Victories on the first Saturday in May.
MAXIUM SECURITY (2019) also crossed the wire first in both races, but was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby 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.
The race ranks as a top-tier prep for those seeking Kentucky Derby glory.