Code of Honor, Hidden Scroll lead Florida Derby field

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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.

UAE 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.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.