April 15, 2024

Fierceness makes case for Kentucky Derby favoritism in Florida Derby tour-de-force

Fierceness romps in the Florida Derby (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

Following a disappointing third in the Holy Bull (G3), champion two-year-old male Fierceness rebounded spectacularly in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, scoring under wraps by 13 1/2 lengths. The Mike Repole homebred broke on top and led clear throughout with John Velazquez, who has now won a record six runnings of the Florida Derby, and trainer Todd Pletcher notched a record-extending eighth victory.

“It was pretty easy,” Velazquez said. “This is what I expected last time out of him. He had been working lights out. He broke well today and I just let him have it. I let them come and get him, and he dominated the whole race. When he got to the backstretch and switched to the turn, he picked it up and so I let him do it. He was comfortable. Then at the quarter pole, I gave him a little smooch and he picked it up right away. It was pretty easy. This is why we’re here. This is what we work for, for opportunities like this. It’s exciting.”

Fierceness, who was off as the 11-10 favorite, established splits in :24.06, :47.50, and 1:11.31 en route to completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.22. The major qualifier awarded points on a 100-50-25-15-10 scale as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, and Fierceness jumped to the top of the leaderboard with 136 points.

When he’s on his game, Fierceness has been brilliant. The son of City Light won first out by an 11-length margin, but the bay colt broke poorly and weakened to be a well-beaten seventh at odds-on in the Champagne (G1) next out. Fierceness bounced back impressively in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), registering a 112 Brisnet Speed rating for the 6 1/4-length decision, but he got off to a rough start in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull and came up empty in the stretch, weakening to third.

“That was a pretty awesome performance,” Pletcher said. “That’s what we see in the mornings when we breeze him, a special talent. That’s why it was so perplexing his two races that he didn’t run brilliantly. He’s three times brilliant and two times has had off days.”

Fierceness appears likely to bring high speed to the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 4, and the break figures to be extremely important given his history.

“From a talent perspective, he has it all,” Pletcher said. “Like everyone else in the Derby, you’ve got to hope you draw a good post, you get a good trip, and you like Churchill Downs – all those things.”

Catalytic held second throughout at 29-1 in his first two-turn attempt, winding up 2 1/2 lengths better than Grand Mo the First, who edged 5-2 second choice Conquest Warrior for third. It was nearly four more lengths back to Holy Bull winner Hades in fifth, and Frankie’s Empire, Iris’s Dream, Real Macho, and Le Dom Bro rounded out the order.

Fierceness is the first foal from the Stay Thirsty mare Nonna Bella, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Outwork. This is also the immediate female family of multiple Grade 2 winner and sire Cairo Prince.