July 20, 2024

Fierceness out to rebound in Florida Derby; Ways and Means returns in Gulfstream Park Oaks

Fierceness (Photo by Coglianese Photography/Credit to Susie Raisher)

Juvenile champion Fierceness will be out for redemption when he faces his Holy Bull (G3) conqueror Hades in their rematch Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1).

Favored at 1-5 in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull following a stunning victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Fierceness endured a troubled start before rating in third behind the stakes debuting Hades, who proceeded to set a tepid pace. Fierceness took a run at Hades around the far turn and at the top of the stretch, but came up empty as Hades seized back the lead and drew off to a two-length victory. Fierceness weakened to third, with eventual Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner Domestic Product rallying for second.

Fierceness will break from post 10 in the 11-horse Florida Derby. It’s not an ideal one in 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream, but not an insurmountable starting point as former stablemate Forte won the Florida Derby last year breaking from post 11.

“Everybody knows Gulfstream two-turn races are very tricky and I think that’s why the start is so important, getting away cleanly,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I think what happens in a lot of these two-turn races is the jockeys are so conscious of having to get to the first turn in good position that it can get a little rough leaving the gate sometimes.”

Hades enters the Florida Derby unbeaten from three starts. Prior to the Holy Bull, the gelded son of Awesome Slew won a maiden optional claimer and an allowance restricted to Florida-breds, both around one turn.

Conquest Warrior, a five-length allowance winner going 1 1/16 miles at the start of March, is the likely third choice in the wagering as he makes his stakes debut. The field also features Le Dom Bro and Frankie’s Empire, the respective second- and third-place finishers to Dornoch in a depleted renewal of the Fountain of Youth (G2) earlier in the month, and Grand Mo the First, who was involved in the three-way photo for the win in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.

The Florida Derby, which yielded eventual Kentucky Derby winner Mage a year ago, will offer qualifying points for the Churchill Downs classic to the top five finishers on a 100-50-25-15-10 basis.

An intriguing renewal of the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) will be one of numerous stakes preceding the Florida Derby on Saturday’s 14-race card. The Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifier is for three-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

The Gulfstream Oaks marks the return to action of Ways and Means, a 12 3/4-length debut winner at Saratoga last summer for Chad Brown. The word was out on the daughter of Practical Joke as she was sent off at 7-10, and she was an even bigger favorite for the Spinaway (G1) later in that meet. However, she missed by a half-length to Brightwork and has been sidelined since.

Fiona’s Magic will attempt to stretch her speed around two turns after defeating Into Champagne by a half-length in the one-mile Davona Dale (G2) earlier this month, while Scalable also returns from that race. Allowance winner Gun Song and recent graduate Do Gooder are also potential improvers stepping up from a mile. Power Squeeze, a comfortable winner of the Cash Run S. and Suncoast S. in her last two, will get a sterner class test here.

The Gulfstream Park Oaks offers Kentucky Oaks qualifying points of 100-50-25-15-10 to the respective top five finishers.