(Fierceness wins the Florida Derby in romping style / Photo Courtesy of Gulfstream Park)

From the Gulfstream Park Media Team:

Repole Stable’s Fierceness was looking good to Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher Sunday morning following his record-breaking 13 ½-length triumph in $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s super. He came back really well. He cooled out really quickly and seemed to recover really well,” Pletcher said Sunday. “He looked good this morning.”

Fierceness also looked mighty good at Gulfstream Saturday, going to the front on the first turn and extending his lead to the wire without being asked by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez on his way to shattering the record for largest margin of victory set by Empire Maker (9 ¾ lengths) in 2003.

“It seems like the more times you watch it the more impressive it looks,” Pletcher said. “We felt good about his training going into it and how his breezes were going. We were anxious to hopefully get off to a good start and get a clean run into the first turn. We felt really good the way he got away from the gate and the position he was able to get when he kind of took the lead turning up the backside. It looked like he got into a comfortable rhythm. I thought to myself, ‘Wow! This has gone as good as we’d hoped for.’ Being allowed to get into a rhythm and do what he’s good at was the key to his success.”

Fierceness, who was voted 2023 2-year-old male champion after bouncing back from a subpar effort in the Champagne (G1) with a 6 ¼-length score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), was coming off a disappointing third-place finish in the Feb. 2 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream.

During the past 15 years only two horses ran faster than Fierceness while winning the Curlin Florida Derby – Pletcher trainees Always Dreaming (1:47.47 in 2017), who went on to win the Kentucky Derby (G1), and Quality Road (1:47.72 in 2009).

The son of City of Light provided Pletcher with his record-extending eighth Curlin Florida Derby victory while pushing Velazquez’s record number of wins in Gulfstream’s signature Triple Crown prep to six.

“All the wins are special in their own right. Some were really close and [Saturday] was clearly not. They’re all rewarding, but [Saturday’s] was the most visually impressive,” Pletcher said. “The final time wasn’t as fast as Always Dreaming, but it was not as fast a track as it was that day.”

After collecting 100 qualifying points for his Curlin Florida Derby score, Fierceness currently sits atop the standings for the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1) with 136 points.

“I have to do some more research. As I understand it, Churchill has a new rule this year that you have to be on the grounds the Saturday before the Derby. So, you have to be on the grounds for a week,” said Pletcher, whose Curlin Florida Derby winner is stabled at Palm Beach Downs.

“He had his final breeze for the Florida Derby eight days before the race. I moved it up one day because we had that rain coming, and we were able to get it in before the rain,” he added. “If I were to have his final breeze eight days out, that gives me some options. If his final breeze is seven days out that locks you into committing to do it at Churchill. We’ve got to think that through a little bit.”

Tami Bobo, Julie Davies and George Isaacs’ Catalytic, who chased Fierceness for 1 1/8-miles before settling for second, exited his stakes debut in good order despite sporting a ‘superficial cut on a front ankle,’ said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Sunday morning.

“Normally when you get beat 13 lengths, you won’t be too happy, but we were beaten, obviously, by a special horse. I thought there were some good horses that finished behind him, so that’s what makes me feel like he ran well,” Joseph said. “At the quarter-pole it looked like he was going to be second, but I also have seen them fade after chasing a good horse. I thought he continued on well enough. He was in a different race, and he beat the other horses. [Fierceness] is in different class when he’s on his ‘A’ game.”

Catalytic, who entered the Florida Derby off a maiden win last summer and a second-place optional claiming allowance at Tampa March 8, earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his runner-up finish, virtually clinching a berth in the field for the first leg of the Triple Crown.

“I think we’re going to train towards it and see how the horse does. If he gives us the right signs, I think the horse will run,” Joseph said.

Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. expressed his intention to run Granpollo Stable’s Grand Mo the First in the Kentucky Derby following the son of Uncle Mo’s third-place finish Saturday. Grand Mo the First, who finished third in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), boosted his Kentucky Derby points total to 40 with his finish in the Curlin Florida Derby that was worth 25 points.

D. J. Stable LLC and Robert Cotran’s Hades, who captured the Holy Bull by two lengths, was never a serious factor after being bumped at the start and racing wide in the Curlin Florida Derby. Undefeated in his first three career starts, the gelded son of Awesome Slew finished fifth.

“We had to go to Plan B. I kind of knew Fierceness was going to go. He’s a good horse and they got to get him interested. So, just sit behind him, and if he backs up to us a little bit, fine. I think we would have been lying second,” trainer Joe Orseno said. “Hey, the horses that were 1-2-3 finished 1-2-3. I dropped back to last on the turn and circled horses 10-wide and still passed horses in the stretch.”

Despite the less-than-ideal trip, Hades came out of the Curlin Florida Derby in good order.

“He came back sound and scoped clean. We’re going to press on and see what happens,” Orseno said. “We’ll see what happens in the races next weekend and decide what we’re doing. We have 30 points, so I don’t know if that will be enough.”