How to Bet the Florida Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 28th, 2019

In analyzing the contenders for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, I think the top finishers from last month’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) might be a cut above their challengers in this 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.

Specifically, those would be #9 Code of Honor, #4 Bourbon War, and #1 Hidden Scroll, who ran 1-2-4 in the Fountain of Youth. The Fountain of Youth was a classy race that featured a fast pace and a decent final time that translated to a 95 Beyer speed figure.
Of course, splitting these three runners is easier said than done. I think a strong case can be made that Hidden Scroll ran the best race in the Fountain of Youth, carving out stiff fractions of :22.80, :45.69, and 1:10.42 before weakening in the final furlong to finish fourth by three lengths. It was a gallant effort for a horse making only his second start, and the 104 Beyer that he posted in his powerful debut win at Gulfstream two months ago remains the highest number earned by any member of this foal crop thus far.

But there’s no guarantee that Hidden Scroll will receive an easier trip in the Florida Derby. Drawing the rail with a short run to the first turn could force him to sprint out of the gate early on, a problematic scenario since the front-running sprinters #6 Hard Belle and #7 Maximum Security figure to press him from the start and ensure a fast pace. And if Hidden Scroll takes back off the pace, he risks getting buried inside as the outside runners quickly shift toward the rail in an effort to save ground.

Hidden Scroll might still be good enough to win, but if he comes up short, Code of Honor can capitalize again. With his stout turf-oriented pedigree, 1 1/8 miles should be no issue for this talented colt, who made an eye-catching rally inside and between horses on the far turn of the Fountain of Youth to reach contention and ultimately prevail.

Code of Honor trained strongly prior to the Fountain of Youth and has turned in two more good workouts since then, so another sharp run should be in the offing on Saturday. I definitely prefer him over Bourbon War, who settled far off the pace in the Fountain of Youth before rallying in the homestretch, the slowest portion of the race. Bourbon War is clearly a talented colt, but his lack of tactical speed compared to Code of Honor could put him at a disadvantage against his more versatile rival.

Here’s how I would play the Florida Derby:

$2 trifecta: 1,9 with 1,4,7,9 with 1,4,7,8,9 ($36)

Good luck!