The fact Hidden Scroll only lost last month's Fountain of Youth (Grade II) by three lengths to more experienced rivals after setting a scorching pace following a troubled start was, by any measure, an admirable performance. On Saturday, in the $1 million Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park, the lightly-raced Juddmonte homebred will try again to get himself qualified for the Kentucky Derby (GI).
Hidden Scroll drew post No. 1 in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby and was installed the 5-2 morning-line choice against 10 rivals. Favored in the Fountain of Youth off a 14-length debut win in the slop in late January, Hidden Scroll will have a new rider, Javier Castellano, for Saturday's race.
“I think this horse is fine behind horses; he's fine on the lead if the pace is such that he needs to be on the lead. That's the rider's decision. They have to make that choice when they leave the starting gate,” said trainer Bill Mott, who is seeking his first win in both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
The other pace elements in the field are Maximum Security (9-2), who has won all three starts by a combined margin of more than 34 lengths, albeit in maiden claiming and starter allowance company, and the rank outsider Hard Belle.
Benefiting from the hot pace of the Fountain of Youth was Code of Honor (3-1), who scored the first stakes win of his career after throwing in a clunker in the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man in his season opener. He's trained by Shug McGaughey, who saddled Orb to a Fountain of Youth-Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby sweep in 2013.
“I think I have a little bit more confidence (going into the Florida Derby) because I was a little bit shook after the Mucho Macho Man,” McGaughey said. “I kind of changed my strategy and that worked, so I've kept on with it and I think he's progressing the right way.”
A hard-charging second in the Fountain of Youth was Bourbon War (7-2), who should appreciate the additional ground on Saturday. The margin between him and Code of Honor was just three-quarters of a length, and two starts back the son of Tapit defeated subsequent Sunland Park Derby (GIII) winner Cutting Humor in an allowance.
“I thought his gallop-out was much stronger than the rest of the field,” trainer Mark Hennig said of Bourbon War's effort past the Fountain of Youth finish line. “It really gave us some confidence.
“His daily gallops, he's putting a lot into them, which is great to see. He's matured a lot. He's eating tremendously right now. He's a horse that's needed to fill out and grown up as the spring comes on, and he's doing that.”
Harvey Wallbanger (15-1) took a pass on the Fountain of Youth after registering a 29-1 upset of the Holy Bull (GII) in early February, but needs a strong showing Saturday to qualify for the Churchill Downs classic with only 10 Derby qualifying points accrued so far.
Todd Pletcher has won the Florida Derby a record five times, including the last two editions, and will rely on longshot Current (15-1). A Grade III winner on turf last year and third in the Dania Beach (GIII) in his lone start this year, he finished seventh of 14 in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) in his only previous try on the dirt, which was contested in the slop.
Completing the field of 11 are the stakes-placed Everfast, Union's Destiny, and Garter and Tie, as well as the maidenBodexpress.
The Florida Derby will award Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers.
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