In Florida Derby, an up-and-coming trainer seeks a breakout

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) No trainers have sent more horses to the Kentucky Derby than D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher, which may bode well for Jonathan Thomas.

Lukas mentored Pletcher – a Hall of Famer teaching a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.

2018 Kentucky Derby: How to Watch, Post Time, Horses and More

And then Pletcher mentored Thomas, who now finds himself in position for a breakout moment.

Thomas will send Catholic Boy out against eight other hopefuls in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby; trainer and horse are both seeking what would be the most significant result of their careers. A good showing over Gulfstream Park’s dirt almost certainly would be enough to send them to the Kentucky Derby in five weeks.

“Listen, we’re very one step one step at a time,” said Thomas, explaining why he’s hesitant to start talking about anything past the Florida Derby. “This is an important race. It can almost solidify a horse’s career as a stallion which is very important. One step at a time. I mean, this race is very important to us. … You can’t get ahead of your horse. You really have to take it day by day.”

Catholic Boy is the third choice in the morning line, with early odds of 7-2. The 9-5 favorite is Audible, the winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream eight weeks ago. Promises Fulfilled, who won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, is the second choice at 3-1.

Audible is trained by Pletcher. Promises Fulfilled is trained by Dale Romans, another conditioner that Thomas worked under, albeit briefly.

“I think everyone in this business gets up and works hard every day to partake in these sort of things,” Thomas said. “And you can’t do it without the owners who support you. You know, I’m a spoke in a wheel with a lot of spokes. And ultimately you have to have the horse flesh, the athlete to compete at these levels. It’s not lost on me what we’re doing.”

Pletcher and Lukas have both sent 48 horses to the Kentucky Derby. They’ve combined to win more than $630 million in purses, prevailing in more than 9,300 races.

They are titans.

Thomas isn’t anywhere near that yet. He has 32 victories as a trainer, with about $1 million in purses. But Pletcher has long raved about his former protege, and it’s easy to see what a win on Saturday could do for his career.

“He always exceeded expectations that we had,” Pletcher said last year, when Thomas was just getting started on his own.

A win in the Florida Derby might even exceed Thomas’ own expectations.

He’s overcome plenty as a horseman, including a nasty fall as a steeplechase rider that left him with a broken back and briefly paralyzed. He fought back and now doesn’t even reflect much on those days, with the lone reminder being occasional back pain when he gets out of bed in the morning before heading to the barn.

Now he’s trying to win a race where his mentor is going to be favored. Thomas speaks only with reverence for Pletcher, but can’t wait for Saturday.

“I take that as an honor, to be associated with this him and his program,” Thomas said. “I can only look at that as an immense positive, because working for him was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Thirteen 3-year-olds are late nominees to Triple Crown races

Syndication: El Paso Times

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Wild On Ice, winner of the Sunland Park Derby, is among 13 3-year-old colts that were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series with a late payment of $6,000.

There are now 382 horses eligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The late payment was due Monday. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

Wild On Ice won the Sunland Park Derby at 35-1 odds. The other late nominees are: Ireland-bred Brave Emperor, El Camino Real Derby winner Chase the Chaos, Coffeewithchris, Empirestrikesfast, Eye Witness, Henry Q, Interlock Empire, King Russell, Kolomio, Mr. Peeks, Nautical Star, and Ninetyprcentmaddie.

Any horse not nominated during the early or late phases can become eligible through a supplemental fee due at the time of entry for each Triple Crown race. The Kentucky Derby fee is $200,000, the Preakness is $150,000 and the Belmont costs $50,000.

Florida Derby 2023: How to watch, what to know ahead of race day


The stakes are high on the road to the Kentucky Derby, as a field of 12 will vie for $1 million and precious qualifying points at the Curlin Florida Derby on Saturday, April 1 on  CNBC and Peacock. The winner of the race will receive 100 of these points with the runner-up getting 40, the third-place runner receiving 30, the fourth-place finisher receiving 20 and the fifth-place horse receiving 10.

NBC Sports has you covered with everything you need to know about Saturday’s race, which will get underway Saturday at 6 p.m. EST, airing on CNBC and streaming on Peacock. 

Who will be racing at the Florida Derby?

  • Jungfrau
    • Bill Mott (trainer), Paco Lopez (jockey)
  • West Coast Cowboy
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Sonny Leon (jockey)
  • Shaq Diesel
    • Renaldo Richards (trainer), Miguel Vasquez (jockey)
  • Mage
    • Gustavo Delgado (trainer), Luis Saez (jockey)
  • Mr. Peeks
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Edwin Gonzalez (jockey)
  • Nautical Star
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Leonel Reyes (jockey)
  • II Miracolo
    • Antonio Sano (trainer), Jesus Rios (jockey)
  • Mr. Ripple
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Edgard Zayas (jockey)
  • Cyclone Mischief
    • Dale Romans (trainer), Javier Castellano (jockey)
  • Fort Bragg
    • Tim Yakteen (trainer), Joel Rosario (jockey)
  • Forte
    • Todd Pletcher (trainer), Irad Ortiz Jr. (jockey)
  • Dubyuhnell
    • Danny Gargan (trainer), Jose Ortiz (jockey)

Who is the favorite for the Florida Derby?

All eyes will be on the reigning two-year-old champion Forte come Saturday, who has earned 90 points to date and won five of his six career starts. His 2023 campaign got off to a quick start after taking the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream by 4 1/2 lengths on March 4 in his 3-year-old debut. His other recent wins include triumphs at the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The 4/5 morning line favorite and trainer Todd Pletcher, however, will have some obstacles in the way as they look to continue the charge to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. As Pletcher looks to extend his streak to a record-setting seven wins, he’ll need Forte to overcome a post position 11 at Gulfstream Park.

Horses who have drawn post position 11 at the Florida Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles since Gulfstream was reconfigured in 2006 have come away with the crown a mere 2 of 50 times.

RELATED: Forte seems dominant ahead of Florida Derby prep race

What should I look for come race day?

The unlucky post position for the favorite Forte opens the door for other contenders, such as Fort Bragg and Cyclone Mischief.

Fort Bragg, who was initially slated to race at last weekend’s Sunland Derby before re-routing to Gulfstream, will be making his second start for Tim Yakteen. The $700,000 purchase is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Fountain of Youth on March 4 and is 5-1 on the morning line for Florida under Forte.

RELATED: Arabian Knight off Kentucky Derby trail; will return later

Not far behind, however, is Cyclone Mischief, who displayed an encouraging performance at the Fountain of Youth, holding a lead for the first mile before falling to third. The three-year-old and his trainer, Dale Romans, will look to cause a bit more havoc at Gulfstream and earn valuable points to keep the hopes for Louisville alive.

Others to keep an eye on come race time include Mage, who has a total of 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and West Coast Cowboy, who currently sits with six.

RELATED: Kingsbarns has a chance to improve before the Kentucky Derby

How can I watch the Florida Derby?

  • Date: Saturday, April 1st
  • Time: 6 p.m. EST
  • TV Network: CNBC
  • Streaming: Peacock

When is the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

The 2023 Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 6th, and will air across the networks of NBC Sports and Peacock.

For more horse racing coverage and the latest on the road to the Kentucky Derby, visit