Using History As a Guide to Betting the 2023 Florida Derby


Gulfstream Park is kicking off April on a high note. A stakes-packed Saturday card is highlighted by the $1 million Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa.

The Florida Derby has long been a lucrative stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Since the turn of the century, the 1 1/8-mile race has produced six Kentucky Derby winners: Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017). In addition, Maximum Security (2019) crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby before getting disqualified for causing interference.

If you’re planning to bet on the 2023 Florida Derby, we’ve got you covered. Examining the recent history of the Florida Derby reveals trends that can help us identify the horse most likely to succeed in Gulfstream’s signature Kentucky Derby prep race.

With that in mind, let’s dig through the data and see what the stats reveal:

Horses with tactical speed have an advantage

Pacesetters have fared well in the last dozen editions of the Florida Derby, recording four victories. Two other speedy runners, Always Dreaming and Tiz the Law, prevailed after tracking the pace. Several others stayed within a few lengths of the early tempo. All told, 10 of the last 12 Florida Derby winners were racing in the front half of the field after the opening half-mile.

The only two deep closers to win the Florida Derby during this timeframe were Audible and Dialed In. Notably, they benefited from chasing by far the two fastest half-mile pace fractions of the last dozen years.

In short, a little pace handicapping will help you determine which running style is most likely to succeed in the 2023 Florida Derby. Unless a destructive pace seems likely, give an edge to horses with tactical speed.



Position after first 1/2-mile

1/2-mile, 3/4-mile times

(track condition)


White Abarrio

5th by 2.25 lengths (11 starters)

47.24, 1:10.68 (fast)


Known Agenda

5th by 3 lengths (11 starters)

47.73, 1:12.29 (fast)


Tiz the Law

3rd by 0.5 lengths (9 starters)

47.95, 1:11.94 (fast)


Maximum Security

1st by 0.5 lengths (11 starters)

48.98, 1:12.90 (fast)



8th by 8.5 lengths (9 starters)

46.37, 1:11.68 (fast)


Always Dreaming

2nd by 1.5 lengths (10 starters)

47.08, 1:10.75 (fast)



1st by 0.5 lengths (10 starters)

47.09, 1:11.39 (good)



1st by 0.5 lengths (9 starters)

48.24, 1:12.51 (fast)



4th by 2 lengths (8 starters)

48.19, 1:12.00 (fast)



5th by 4 lengths (10 starters)

48.56, 1:12.89 (fast)


Take Charge Indy

1st by 1 length (8 starters)

47.71, 1:12.09 (fast)


Dialed In

8th by 10.5 lengths (8 starters)

46.35, 1:10.63 (fast)

Short-priced contenders usually win, but favorites can be beaten

In a rather unusual trend, 11 of the last 12 Florida Derby winners started at 5.40-1 or less, but only two (Audible at 1.60-1 and Tiz the Law at 1.40-1) were favored. This oddity of odds might be due to the classy caliber of competition the Florida Derby typically attracts. There are typically two or three standout contenders each year, so it’s difficult for major longshots to prevail. But among the obvious contenders, bettors frequently favor the wrong horse, allowing the second or third choice to win at a short price.

Bet trainer Todd Pletcher

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Florida Derby half a dozen times, including five of the last nine editions (2021, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014). And since Pletcher didn’t saddle a starter in 2016, he’s actually won five of the last eight Florida Derbies in which he’s entered a horse.

Local runners have dominated

Almost without exception, horses exiting races at Gulfstream Park win the Florida Derby. Of the 36 horses who have finished in the Florida Derby trifecta over the last dozen years, 31 emerged from races at Gulfstream, including 11 of the 12 winners.

The only out-of-state shipper to win the Florida Derby during the last 12 years was champion 2-year-old Nyquist, a future Kentucky Derby winner who parlayed a win in Santa Anita Park’s Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes into victory at Gulfstream. The other four non-Gulfstream runners to crack the Florida Derby trifecta entered off prep runs at nearby Tampa Bay Downs.

But though 11 of the last 12 Florida Derby winners prepped at Gulfstream, there has been little consistency as to which races they’ve exited. White Abarrio, Tiz the Law, and Audible won the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes. Orb nabbed the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. Known Agenda, Always Dreaming, Constitution, Take Charge Indy, and Dialed In prepped in allowance races. Materiality emerged from the Islamorada Handicap. Maximum Security prevailed in a starter optional claiming race.

It seems that Florida Derby winners can come from anywhere, so long as “anywhere” refers to any race at Gulfstream Park.

A recent victory is important

Did you know that each of the last 10 Florida Derby winners entered off a victory? Strong recent form has been critical for success in the Florida Derby, so history suggests favoring horses with a last-out win to their credit is a wise strategy.


History makes a strong case for the most likely winner of the 2023 Florida Derby. Among the dozen horses in the entries, only two enter off a victory, and only one of those recent winners achieved his success at Gulfstream Park: #11 Forte (4-5).

Forte is pretty much a perfect match for the historical profile of a Florida Derby winner. Last year’s champion 2-year-old male kicked off 2023 with a flashy 4 ½-length victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream, in which he settled about 2 ½ lengths off the early pace before pouncing to the front. He has enough tactical speed to race in the front half of the Florida Derby field, he’s conditioned by Todd Pletcher, and he’ll be a short price in the betting. What’s not to like?

The other key contenders from a historical perspective are #9 Cyclone Mischief (8-1) and #4 Mage (10-1). Cyclone Mischief carved out the pace in the Fountain of Youth before staying on to finish third; his front-running speed and experience at Gulfstream are appealing factors in his favor.

Mage might be an even better choice to play underneath Forte. He wired his debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream before enduring a troubled start and a wide trip in the Fountain of Youth, finishing fourth while beaten only one length for third place by Cyclone Mischief. With a clean break in the Florida Derby, Mage is eligible to secure a forward position and outrun his odds.

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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