A mild Saturday afternoon in South Florida was the backdrop for the 59th running of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, but the Kentucky Derby prep really heated up the track.
The post-time favorite Rule got into it with Pulsion zipping through the half mile in: 46 2/5 while the rest of the field gave chase. Ice Box’s jockey Jose Lezcano sensed the quick pace, then wisely took his mount back and sat five lengths behind the pack. After blitzing six furlongs in 1:10 4/5, Rule put away a toasted Pulsion and the rest were tiring badly.
A leg-weary Rule continued on past the eighth pole alone on the lead and for a moment it looked like he’d win his fifth straight race. Meanwhile, Ice Box and Pleasant Prince started making their moves. Pleasant Prince got the jump on Ice Box, but the former seemed to hang a bit behind Rule in deep stretch until Ice Box came to him. Guided to the far outside, Ice Box flew six wide around the far turn and it appeared that he would easily pass Pleasant Prince, however that one was encouraged and the two ran as a team past a game Rule who held on for third. Barely a nose separated Ice Box and Pleasant Prince at the wire. Ice Box stopped the clock in 1:49.19 for the 1 1/8 miles and it is comparable to the winning times of previous Florida Derby winners Barbaro (1:49.01), Empire Maker (1:49.05), Tim Tam (1:40.20) and Cape Town (1:40.21).
Ice Box is in illustrious company now that he’s won a major Kentucky Derby prep race in good time, but does he have what it takes to freeze his name in Derby history?
Ice Box (Pulpit – Spice Island, by Tabasco Cat) was a late-developing juvenile who needed four starts to break his maiden. After light training throughout the winter, Ice Box re-appeared in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park that would portend the Florida Derby. Chasing down a tiring Positive Split, Ice Box hooked up with Pleasant Prince in deep stretch and out-finished him by a neck. Returning in the Fountain of Youth, Ice Box made a huge middle move traveling five wide around the last turn but couldn’t sustain his move, checking in fifth, twelve lengths behind the winner Eskendereya, while his nemesis Pleasant Prince finished 1 ¾ lengths ahead of him in fourth.
Ice Box’s sire Pulpit won the Fountain of Youth then ran second in the Florida Derby before winning Blue Grass stakes and solidifying his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite in 1997. Unfortunately, he was injured during the race, but still managed to finish a respectable fourth. At stud, with over 20 sons at stud in various parts of the world, Pulpit has built a reputation as a sire of sires. Pulpit, a son of A.P. Indy, gets winners up to twelve furlongs, although most of his runners are at their limit around nine furlongs. He has sired two graded stakes winners at ten furlongs, both are by sons or grandsons of Northern Dancer.
Spice Island, Ice Box’s dam, did her best running as a four and five year old. She was a hard trying stakes winning mare, winning the Long Island Handicap (G-2) and Rood and Riddle Dowager Stakes both at 1 ½ miles over turf. She is the only stakes winner for her dam Crown of Sheba, who is a half sister to 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck, Jode, the dam of 1999 Irish One Thousand Guineas Stakes (Gr-1) winner Hula Angel and four stakes placed runners. Ice Box has one sibling of racing age, Urban Jungle, who has won one of two starts.
As a two year old, Ice Box’s broodmare sire Tabasco Cat won the Fort Springs Stakes at Keeneland and settled for third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The following year he won the San Rafael Stakes and El Camino Real Derby before traveling to Kentucky for the Derby. He finished sixth in that classic race after being compromised by another horse. Tabasco Cat came back to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and missed out on the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a head. Tabasco Cat was retired to stud at the end of his three year old season to Overbrook Farm in 1995. In 2000, the fiery chestnut was bought for $7 million dollars and transferred to Japan where he stood until his unexpected death in 2004. In the breeding shed the Northern Dancer great-grandson produced runners at all distances. He has several graded stakes winners that have won at 10 furlongs or longer, including Freeforinternet, the aforementioned Spice Island, Host, and Island Sand. As a broodmare sire, he has two ten furlong winners, both by stamina sires (A.P. Indy and Kingmambo).
The great Alysheba, winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and two time Horse of the Year is Ice Box’s second damsire. Alysheba’s daughters produced fifteen Grade/Group stakes winners who have won at the classic distances or further.
Ice Box has inbreeding to Secretariat through two of his greatest daughters, Weekend Surprise and Terlingua, plus the blood of Raise A Native through his sons Mr. Prospector and Alysheba. Looking farther back, Ice Box carries the bloodlines of Belmont Stakes winner Jaipur, and other stamina influences. Stamina is no good if the speed to get to the wire first isn’t present, but Ice Box has that too, from the brilliant Honest Pleasure, Mr,. Prospector and broodmare sire of the year Speak John.
So far, most of the Derby prep races have been won by horses either on or just off of the lead. This abundance of speed could ultimately set the Kentucky Derby up for a late-running type. Ice Box has a confirmed stalking running style, yet a brilliant turn of foot and the pedigree to get ten furlongs. His Florida Derby final time showed that he isn’t just a plodder who took advantage of a pace melt down and the way he successfully battled to the wire shows his heart. Ice Box shows all the necessary requirements of a Kentucky Derby winner.
Find more Pedigree Analysis and Derby coverage at Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds.