Triple Crown: Fierceness dominates Florida Derby

Repole Stable’s Fierceness recaptured his championship form in dramatic fashion Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the son of City of Light overpowered his opposition by a record 13 ½ lengths in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa.

“That was a pretty awesome performance. That’s what we see in the mornings when we breeze him, a special talent,” Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said. “That’s why it was so perplexing his two races that he didn’t run brilliantly. He’s three times brilliant and two times has had off days.”

Fierceness provided Pletcher with his record-extending eighth Curlin Florida Derby victory while posting the largest winning margin in the 73-year history of the tradition-rich 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds, eclipsing Empire Maker’s old record of 9 ¾ lengths set in 2003.

The juvenile champion of 2023 joined Pletcher’s previous Curlin Florida Derby winners, Forte (2023), Known Agenda (2021), Audible (2018), Always Dreaming (2017), Materiality (2015), Constitution (2014), and Quality Road (2009).

Fierceness, who finished a disappointing third in the Feb. 2 Holy Bull (G2) in his 3-year-old debut after clinching the Eclipse Award with a 6 ¼-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, earned 100 qualifying points for the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, where he will surely vie for favoritism in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

“From a talent perspective, he has it all,” Pletcher said. “Like everyone else in the Derby, you’ve got to hope you draw a good post, you get a good trip, and you like Churchill Downs – all those things.”

Despite his subpar showing in the Holy Bull, Fierceness was sent to post as the even-money favorite in a field reduced to nine horses upon the early morning withdrawals of his stablemate Bail Us Out and Seminole Chief. The Repole Stable homebred put on a show for his backers and everyone else with his dazzling effort, in which he took control on the first turn and was never threatened thereafter. Fierceness set fractions of 24.06 and 47.50 seconds for the first half-mile with Grand Mo the First and Catalytic in pursuit before drawing away while geared down by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

“It was pretty easy. This is what I expected last time out of him. He had been working lights out. He broke well today, and I just let him have it. I let them come and get him, and he dominated the whole race. When he got to the backstretch and switched to the turn, he picked it up and so I let him do it. He was comfortable,” Velazquez said. “Then at the quarter pole, I gave him a little smooch and he picked it up right away. It was pretty easy. This is why we’re here. This is what we work for, for opportunities like this. It’s exciting.”

Fierceness ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.22 to also provide Velazquez with his record-extending sixth Florida Derby success. The Hall of Famer previously won aboard Audible, Always Dreaming, Materiality, Orb (2013) and Quality Road.

Fierceness has bounced back from a subpar showing before. After winning his debut at Saratoga last August, he finished seventh over a sloppy Aqueduct track in the Oct. 7 Champagne (G1). The Pletcher trainee, of course, redeemed himself with his dominating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win.

Catalytic, who was making his stakes debut in only his third career start, held on to finish second under Julien Leparoux, 2 ½ lengths ahead of Grand Mo the First, who nosed out 5-2 second choice Conquest Warrior for third.

IN OTHER DERBY PREPS While Fierceness was living up to both name and reputation in the Florida Derby, the runner-up from his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile romp, Muth, was in control in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Muth, with Juan Hernandez in the irons, pressed the early pace, took charge turning for home, and went on to win by two lengths. However, because Muth is trained by Bob Baffert, he earns no Derby points and is not eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby. Just Steel, a 32-1 outsider, finished second, and Southwest Stakes winner Mystik Dan was third. Timberlake, the fourth-place finisher, has the most Derby points of any Arkansas Derby runner with 81… The Japanese-bred Forever Young ran his spotless record to 5-for-5 with a win in the UAE Derby, earning 100 points. Under jockey Ryusei Sakai, the Yoshito Yahagi trainee wore down leader Auto Bahn to win by a couple…


1.Fierceness136Todd Pletcher
2.Catching Freedom125Brad Cox
3.Forever Young100Yoshito Yahagi
4.Endlessly100Michael McCarthy
5.Timberlake81Brad Cox