THOROUGHBRED CLASSICS: THE FLORIDA DERBY
1952 was the first running of the Florida Derby with a $24,750 purse and in just one year, the purse was raised to $100,000 for the 1953 running! Beginning in 1955, the Florida Derby produced five straight three-year-old champions: 1955 NASHUA, 1956 NEEDLES, 1958 TIM TAM, 1959 SWORD DANCER, but the 1957 field is one that is still talked about today as so many of the great horses of that year were so evenly matched such as GENERAL DUKE besting second place finisher and favorite, BOLD RULER.
In the 60's the race produced such classic winners such as VENETIAN WAY, CARRYBACK, KAUAI KING, FORWARD PASS and ART AND LETTERS, but a little horse from Canada, NORTHERN DANCER, would go on to not only win the Florida Derby but that years' Kentucky Derby as well - see footage of his, "Run for the Roses", victory.
Long considered a springboard to the Triple Crown, the Florida Derby has hosted such champions as LITTLE CURRENT, HONEST PLEASURE, ALYDAR and SPECTACULAR BID in the 1970's (see "THE BID's" Florida and Kentucky Derbies).
Another memorable year was in 1984 when Claiborne Farm's SWALE with Laffit Pincay aboard won the stretch duel against DR. CARTER and in 1994 when HOLY BULL ran one of the most impressive runnings in history leading from gate to wire and winning very easily but could not pull off the Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby double. The following year, THUNDER GULCH would accomplish the double. Other unforgettable races include 'LIL LAD'S disqualification victory to CAPE TOWN in 1998 and VICAR's narrow victory over WONDERTROSS in 1999.
Since the first Florida Derby in 1952 with its $24,750 purse to current years $750,000 purse, horsemen have always appreciated the importance of this race as one of the most significant prep races coming into the Kentucky Derby. This race has had quite an impact on the Thoroughbred Triple Crown. 48 Triple Crown races have been won by 35 three-year-olds who competed in the Florida Derby: 18 Kentucky Derby winners, 17 Preakness winners, and 13 who won the Belmont.
And so we begin the Triple Crown trail in the new millennium just as they have here in South Florida since the 1920's.
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