Florida Horse Races
When winter sets in to the northern part of North America, horse racing starts to heat up in Florida. Long considered the winter home of racing, for decades the tracks in Florida have drawn some of the top trainers and horses south, to compete in a number of big races, including some of the most important prep races for the Kentucky Derby. Most recently, in 2013, Orb won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby as preparation for the Triple Crown, where he won the Kentucky Derby, was fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont.
Biggest Horse Races in Florida
Those who know racing in the Sunshine State know that Gulfstream Park is the epicenter of Florida racing, especially in the late winter and early spring when some of the top three-year-olds in North America begin to strut their stuff on the track. But Gulfstream isn’t the only game in town, with competitive races also being held at Gulfstream Park West – formerly known as Calder Race Course – and Tampa Bay Downs.
Kicking off the major stakes races during the Gulfstream meet is the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes, for three-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. The race is considered a prep for the Florida Derby, and is also part of the Kentucky Derby Challenge series, with the top four finishers earning a points toward a spot in the Derby starting gate.
The Donn Handicap is typically held in late January or early February at Gulfstream and features horses four years and older, racing 1 1/8 miles on the dirt for a purse of $500,000. In 2004, Lea won the Donn in a time of 1:46. 86 the first horse in 35 years – and only the second in history - to run under 1:47.
The final prep for the Florida Derby, and another of the Kentucky Derby Challenge races, the Fountain of Youth Stakes features three-year-olds running 1 1/16 miles on the Gulfstream dirt. First run in 1945, the Fountain of Youth has produced five Derby winners, the most recent being Orb in 2013. Four of those winners – Tim Tam, Kauai King, Spectacular Bid and Thunder Gulch – each claimed two legs of the Triple Crown.
The feature race of the meet at Tampa Bay Downs, the Tampa Bay Derby is a Grade 2 race for three-year-olds running 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for a purse of $350,000. Another in the Derby Challenge series, 2013 winner Verrazano, was one of the primary contenders in the Run for the Roses (having also won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct) but faded late to finish 14th.
The highlight of the Florida racing season is the Florida Derby, a Grade 1 races offering a purse of $1 million for three-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Over the past eight years, three horses have come out of wins in the Florida Derby to then take the Kentucky Derby, including Orb (2013), Big Brown (2008) and Barbaro (2006). One of the most important races in the Derby prep season, the winner earns 100 points toward a Kentucky Derby start.