HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey fondly remembers how the majority of the betting public and handicappers overlooked Orb six years ago, all the way to the Kentucky Derby.
If it happens again with Code of Honor, he won’t complain.
Code of Honor, the winner of the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, returns to that same track Saturday for the $1 million Florida Derby – one of the last major prep races on the road to the Triple Crown season. A field of 11 horses is entered, and Hidden Scroll is the likely favorite even after getting beaten by Code of Honor four weeks ago.
“He was pretty overlooked in the Fountain of Youth too and, you know, I think that if that’s the way it is this Saturday I think that he will probably make some people feel kind of funny,” McGaughey said of his horse, which will be ridden again by John Velazquez. “But that’s the public’s opinion and the media’s opinion. I mean, I’ve liked what I’ve seen and I wouldn’t trade places with any of the horses that are in there.”
Orb won the Fountain of Youth for McGaughey six years ago, then the Florida Derby, then the Kentucky Derby.
So far, Code of Honor is on the same path.
“I was very impressed with his race in the Fountain of Youth,” McGaughey said. “I felt that, you know, really, he was kind of an easy winner.”
The Kentucky Derby field is based on points that horses earn by their finishes in various prep races. Winning the Fountain of Youth assures Code of Honor enough points to get into the May 4 race at Churchill Downs, assuming he’s healthy. And while the $600,000 winner’s share of the Florida Derby pot is obviously enticing, he won’t need points on Saturday.
That’s not the case for Hidden Scroll. He was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite, just ahead of 3-1 Code of Honor.
At minimum, just to have a shot at reaching the Kentucky Derby, he’ll need to finish no worse than third Saturday. Hidden Scroll didn’t race as a 2-year-old, broke his maiden at Gulfstream in January in a staggering 14-lengths win and was the 6-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth on March 2 – he went to the lead but ran out of gas down the stretch, fading to fourth.
That race was 1 1/16 miles, and the Florida Derby is 1 1/8 miles. The added half-furlong wouldn’t typically seem to help a horse that tired at the shorter distance, but trainer Bill Mott thinks some tweaks to the game plan is all that’s required.
“We’re going into a race that’s only his third race,” Mott said. “We certainly don’t know everything about him. I think it’s still going to be a little bit of a learning experience. I’m extremely high on the horse. I think he’s got a tremendous amount of ability.”
Bourbon War is the 7-2 third choice in the morning line for the Florida Derby.
The other Kentucky Derby point-providing race Saturday is the $2.5 million UAE Derby in Dubai. Like the Florida Derby, it provides 100 points to the winner, 40 points for second, 20 points for third and 10 points for fourth.
The morning-line favorite is Divine Image, a filly who has three wins and a second-place showing in her four career starts. But even if she prevails Saturday, she may not get pointed to run against males in the Kentucky Derby – and instead, perhaps, to the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill the day before the Derby.