Wednesday, March 24, 2021
HALLANDALE BEACH - Courtlandt Farms’ Greatest Honour will have a lot going for him in Saturday’s $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa
The 3-year-old son of Tapit has shown a distinct fondness for the Gulfstream Park racetrack, over which he has won all three of his races during the Championship Meet. He is trained by Shug McGaughey, a Hall of Famer who has done and won all that.
“I’m looking forward to running him,” McGaughey said. “He’s been a pleasure all winter. He’s never missed a beat. Things have sort of been the same. We just hope it continues.”
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, which has produced the winners of 60 Triple Crown events, will headline a program with 10 stakes, including the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and the $200,000 Pan American (G2) presented by Rood & Riddle. The blockbuster 14-race program will also be highlighted by a mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 pool, which is expected to swell into the multi-millions should the popular multi-race wager go unsolved through Friday. There will also be $750,000 guaranteed pools in the Late Pick 5 and Late Pick 4.
The Florida Derby will offer 170 qualifying points for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Greatest Honour, who followed up a Dec. 26 maiden score with victories in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (G3) and the Feb. 27 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2), was installed at 6-5 in the morning line Wednesday after drawing Post No. 7 for the Florida Derby, which attracted a deep field of 11 3-year-olds. McGaughey is hoping his late-running powerhouse will follow the example of Orb, whom he saddled for late-rallying victories in the 2017 Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
“They’re two different horses that have the same running style,” said McGaughey, noting Greatest Honour’s more imposing physical stature. “They may look the same, but it’s just on paper.”
Greatest Honour, like Orb, possesses a strong late kick that has carried him to three straight victories in going-away fashion at 1 1/16-miles. After graduating by 1 ¼ lengths, the Kentucky-bred colt employed a furious stretch run to win by 5 ¾ lengths in the Holy Bull. Five lengths back in mid-stretch, Greatest Honour unleashed an eye-catching surge to catch frontrunner Drain the Clock and go on to score by 1 ½ lengths.
“I think he was doing – three times – what he wasn’t wanting to do – going a mile and a sixteenth over a speed-favoring track – and he was able to catch up all three times against pretty good company,” McGaughey said. “So, I am looking forward to getting him stretched out where maybe in the Florida Derby he’ll be laying like he was in the Holy Bull and not as far back as he was in the Fountain of Youth.”
Greatest Honour was winless in three starts last year, finishing third in his first two career starts at Saratoga and Belmont, both at seven furlongs, before finishing second in a photo finish at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 8 at Aqueduct.
“One of the things that impressed me was, with his pedigree and his make-up, he was able to make the races as early as he did, which was [September] at Saratoga,” McGaughey said. “And he was very effective in those two maiden races going seven-eighths.”
As impressed as McGaughey may be about how much Greatest Honour has achieved thus far, he is more excited about the future. Jose Ortiz has the return mount aboard Greatest Honour.
With Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sending Spielberg to Gulfstream, the 70th running of the Florida Derby has the potential to turn into an East-meets-West showdown.
The son of Union Rags, who was rated second at 4-1 in the morning line after drawing Post. No. 10, is coming off a second-place finish behind Eclipse Award-winning Essential Quality in the Feb. 27 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. In his 2021 debut, Spielberg stumbled at the start of the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita before finishing fourth behind Baffert-trained winner Medina Spirit.
Spielberg had a productive six-race juvenile campaign, in which he finished second in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and third in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita before breaking his maiden in his fourth start. He went on to win the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) two starts later
“He’s had a lot of races. Of all my horses, he’s had the most starts. He’s second to Concert Tour in money earned. He runs solid. He shows up,” Baffert said. “Once in a while he’ll run a flat race. He’s doing well and I think he will like the mile and an eighth. He sort of comes running, but he’s got to ship well and behave himself. And he’s got to break well. He can’t break like he did the last time.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano is scheduled to ride the Baffert trainee for the first time.
St. Elias Stable’s Known Agenda will hold the distinction of being the only horse in the Florida Derby field to own a decision over Greatest Honour. The son of Curlin defeated Greatest Honour by a head while graduating in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight race Nov. 8 at Aqueduct.
“He’s won at a mile and an eighth and he was able to beat Greatest Honour when he did that,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “The form from that maiden race has held up well. Overtook, who finished third that day, came back and was second in the Withers.
Known Agenda, who drew Post No. 5 and was rated third at 5-1 in the morning line, is coming off a sharp 11-length optional claiming allowance victory Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park at the Florida Derby distance. After getting away last and finishing fifth in the Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, he was equipped with blinkers for the first time for his recent romp
“He needed a little early focus. It definitely put his mind in the game a little bit,” Pletcher said. “He’s a horse we’ve always liked, and I think the further he gets to go, the stronger he’ll be.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., who teamed with Known Agenda for the first time in his recent win, has the return call.
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