Head to head: Handicapping the 2021 Florida Derby

Head to head: Handicapping the 2021 Florida Derby
Photo: Liz Lamont / Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby is the final leg of three Gulfstream Park preps for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Greatest Honor attempts a rare sweep of the series, while 10 other hopefuls try to ruin his bid in the 1 1/8-mile event.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast sort out the contenders from the pretenders.




I took Nova Rags on top last out in Tampa Bay Downs' Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3). He had a nice tracking position and saved all the ground in the far turn and into the stretch, but there was no catching the winner that day. Perhaps a little more distance would be suited to this son of Union Rags.

Nova Rags has gradual Brisnet Speed Rating progression, yet not high enough to be competitive for the victory. In his favor, the Bill Mott trainee has the pedigree to love nine furlongs, and he has a progress/regress cycle, coming up on a good race. He is stuck on the rail, but with a good ride from the on-fire Junior Alvarado, Nova Rags could hit the lower exotics.



This son of Pioneerof the Nile took a quantum leap forward when finally breaking his maiden last out. His speed figure jumped from 68 in his second career start to 91 last out. With that said, Quantum Leap would need to do just that to be competitive in this field.

The lightbulb turned on for Pioneerof the Nile's son in his last start, and he flashed more early speed than in two previous starts, pressing the pace three-wide in a nine-furlong maiden contest. Quantum Leap fought hard down the stretch to win by a neck, getting his final furlong in 13.03. The son of Pioneerof the Nile has three graded blacktype-earning sprinter half-sisters. Ian Wilkes is wining at 17 percent with last-out maiden winners. However, it would be quite a leap to transform into a Grade 1 winner in his next start. 



By Social Inclusion, Jirafales ran fifth in both the Holy Bull (G3) and the Fountain of Youth (G2). While his speed figures have improved, I suspect that we will get yet another off the board finish.

Jirafales is the Florida Derby “why?” horse. He needs a head start just to get out of the gate. He made up ground in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, but not enough to matter. Pass.



I know Dale Romans has to "shoot his shot," but sometimes you just have to know when to fold 'em. No matter how I look at this colt's PP's, even upside down, I just can't find an upside.

Southern Passage won a $50,000 maiden claimer in the slop at Churchill last year. That was the only time he has had his picture taken. He ran evenly last out against optional claimers, beaten by three lengths. His speed figures in eight starts have not topped an 84. Pass.



Known Agenda finished fifth in the Sam F. Davis in his 3-year old bow and was wheeled back three weeks later to dominate a nine-furlong optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. The final time was pedestrian, but jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr stays aboard for the Florida Derby. I am inclined to believe that jockey John Velazquez left Known Agenda too much to do in the Sam F. Davis, as they were 11 lengths off the lead when Known Agenda typically does well tracking from a few lengths back. I am willing to bite the bullet and take another chance here.

After adding blinkers and Lasix, Known Agenda beat optional claimers by 11 lengths at nine furlongs last time out, getting his final furlong in 13.33. In the stretch, Ortiz, Jr. cut over into the path of eventual second-place finisher Top Gun Tommy, causing them to steady. Surprisingly (or not), Ortiz, Jr. wasn’t disqualified for the action. There is always the chance that Known Agenda will regress a bit off that score, but the Todd Pletcher trainee’s works are consistent, and, well, it is Pletcher. For what it is worth, Known Agenda beat Greatest Honour by a head way back in November in a nine-furlong maiden race.


Sigiloso debuted on the dirt and was soundly defeated by eventual Hutcheson Stakes winner Willy Boi. Antonio Sano put him on the lawn in state-bred company, where he prevailed by just a neck. In his last two starts, both on turf, he ran evenly while posing no real threat. I expect the same here.

Sano tries a surface and jock switch to see if Sigiloso will wake up. The son of Khozan is out of a half-sister to 2008 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Big Truck and to Logic Way, a winner at nine furlongs over the lawn. I am not setting my alarm clock on this one.



Courtlandt Farms homebred Greatest Honour has rattled off three straight wins, including the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth. In winning the latter, he came from further off the pace than is typical for him. He owns the highest last race speed rating and the highest speed rating overall. Absolutely the one to beat.

He won the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth from outside posts. The extra distance will be right up his alley, and he is riding a three-race win streak. What is left to say?



Soup and Sandwich enters undefeated in two career starts. Though he debuted in state-bred company, he handled open company just fine in his second outing. His speed figures are decent, but they regressed from debut to the second start. He will need to step forward in a big way here, but his pedigree suggests that it is possible.

This promising son of Into Mischief easily won both his first two starts. He has strong speed figures and owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field. Now for the not-so-obvious. The pretty gray colt has his damsire Tapit’s intensity and is still green. He turns his head and cannot keep a straight path. Soup and Sandwich is highly competitive and wants to be on the lead. He will rate a little but stays on the bridle, keeping his ears pinned flat. Soup and Sandwich’s last race was little more than a paid training session. Facing just two others, his jock made Soup and Sandwich rate behind the pacesetter. Neither rival was a match when Soup and Sandwich was let loose. Trainer Mark Casse gave the colt a sharp four-furlong bullet work over a chewed up Palm Meadows track on the twelfth. Soup and Sandwich did it easily in hand. Talented, but still learning. 



Collaborate was off a step slow in his debut but rallied for fifth, just 1 1/4 lengths from winning in the slop. His second start saw him rocket from the gate and take the field gate-to-wire, winning by 12 lengths, on the Fountain of Youth undercard. He earned a 93 speed figure, just four points off the 97 Greatest Honour earned later in the day. He certainly deserves the opportunity being given to him here.

Collaborate was very professional in his second start, beating maidens by a dozen lengths. In his second-to-last bullet four-furlong breeze, Collaborate rated slightly inside the 4-year-old multiple graded-placed Sound Machine. Neither was pushed. Collaborate has a rhythmic, easy, ground-eating stride, and he galloped out in front of the filly. Collaborate is the first foal out of Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) heroine Quiet Temper, and he hails from the family of Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Dancing Spree. Nine furlongs should be within Collaborate’s scope.



In the interests of keeping his top Kentucky Derby prospects separated in order to earn as many points as possible, Bob Baffert has shipped Spielberg all the way to the East Coast for his first ever Florida Derby starter. Spielberg is one of those consistently inconsistent runners. He has never been worse than fourth, and you never know when he is going to win. Definitely use on top and underneath.

$1 million baby Spielberg won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in a photo finish, which was the last time he saw the inside of the winner’s circle. The Baffert trainee was busy goofing off in the Southwest Stakes (G3) gate and blew the start. To his credit, Spielberg put forth a remarkable effort. He handled the mud, including backsplash, was wide the entire way, and picked off horses to finish second behind Essential Quality. Spielberg is shipping for the second time in two months and will again be wide the entire way unless jockey Javier Castellano pushes him to press the pace. Spielberg is talented but inconsistent.



Papetu has been in the mix of things in the Gulfstream Kentucky Derby preps, running fourth in the Holy Bull and third in the Fountain of Youth. As he is facing many of the same foes as in his last two races, I would say use him underneath but not on top.

The late-running Papetu put in a run around the far turn in the Fountain of Youth but stalled mid-stretch, battling with Tarantino before disengaging and moving forward. Papetu has a miler pedigree and may find nine furlongs too far, especially from the far outside post.


Final Thoughts

Laurie: Greatest Honour attempts a rare sweep of the Holy Bull Stakes, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby. The Holy Bull was previously named the Preview Stakes, which took the place of the Flamingo Stakes. The last horse to win all three Florida preps for the Kentucky Derby was Spectacular Bid in 1979.

There’s no “gotta have the lead” type in here unless Soup And Sandwich feels pressured and grills them. Nova Rags, Quantum Leap, Known Agenda, and Collaborate could mix it up near the front, while Greatest Honor lingers mid-pack or farther back.

I do not like how confident Jose Ortiz was in the Fountain of Youth, waiting until the last minute to unleash Greatest Honour. True, he was much the best, yet he could have easily lost if Drain the Clock had held on. Hopefully, we will not see that scenario here. 

It is a toss-up for the lesser awards between Known Agenda, Collaborate, Quantum Leap, and possibly Nova Rags and Spielberg, if that one does not regress.

Ashley: No recent Derby hopeful has swept the Gulfstream preps, something that does not really bode well for morning-line favorite Greatest Honour. However, Greatest Honour checks all the boxes and truly is the one to beat.

Papetu even got the jump on him in the Fountain of Youth yet Greatest Honour simply swept past him, with Jose Ortiz wrapping him up before he had even passed Drain the Clock.

Spielberg has faced his stablemates and champion Essential Quality and will likely take home a check and some more Derby points.

Collaborate is the interesting new shooter, in my opinion. If he gets loose on the lead or even sits right off the pace setter, he could be incredibly dangerous.








10 SPIELBERG (4-1)


11 PAPETU (15-1) 


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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