Breaking Down This Weekend’s Florida Derby

Written By Dave Bontempo on March 30, 2023
Florida Derby Preview

Drum roll, please, Florida residents.

Florida horse racing is the center of the sport’s universe this weekend. The entire industry revolves around Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach on Saturday.

Sunshine State residents can gamble on this epic 14-race card at the track, at other simulcasting outlets, or at home on the TVG app. The action starts at 11:30 a.m.

Sure, the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is $1.25 million, slightly larger than the $1 million Florida Derby on Saturday.

But Florida bettors are also wagering into a multi-million dollar 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6 pool. The mandatory payout will be Sunday, swelled enormously by the Saturday handle, with a pot of several million dollars.

More than $40,000 was paid on several individual tickets in the last mandatory payout on March 5. Similar numbers are expected on Sunday, Gulfstream’s closing day.

As far as the betting pools are concerned, Seven-figure Saturday and Sunday, here we come.

The Saturday Breakdown

Forte, the superstar who demolished the Fountain of Youth field here at 1-2 in early March, is the early favorite for the 1 1–8-mile showcase. It goes off around 6:40 p.m.

Here is a sample of the card, indicating conditions and the purses.

Gulfstream has far more than $2 million in purse money on Saturday.

Saturday’s schedule

  • Curlin Florida Derby, 1 1-8 Miles, Dirt: $1,000,000
  • Gulfstream Park Oaks Presented by FanDuel TV, Fillies, 1 1-16 miles, Dirt: 250,000
  • Pan American 1 1-2 miles, Turf: $200,000
  • Orchid, 1 1-2 miles, Turf: $150,000
  • Ghostzapper, 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt: $150,000
  • Appleton, 1 Mile. Turf: $150,000
  • Sand Springs, 1 1 1-6 Miles, Turf: $150,000
  • Sir Shackleton, 7 Furlongs, Dirt: $100,000
  • Cutler Bay, 7 1/2 Furlongs, Turf: $100,000
  • Sanibel Island, 7 1/2 Furlongs Turf: $100,000

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s more.

The Rainbow Pick 6 began the week with a guaranteed $900,000 carryover pool.

Gamblers following the PlayFL coverage over the last few weeks have seen us detail the pool swelling from $100,000 to almost 1 million. By Sunday, the pool should be the in the neighborhood of $5 million. This is contingent on no individual ticket claiming all six winners of the last six races on any of this week’s cards,

And then it all gets paid out. Any Pick 6 winner gets a slice of a humongous pot. What a weekend.

Breakdown of the Florida Derby

Forte elevates Gulfstream Park. He is trained by leading money-winning Todd Pletcher and a 3-year-old thoroughbred racing picture.

Pletcher is the training talk of the industry. He trained Forte and Kingsbarns. The latter captured the Louisiana Derby last weekend.

Forte demolished the Fountain of Youth field at a price of 1-2 back in March and is already favored at 4-5 against 11 opponents in the Florida Derby. Bettors will have a tough time making money on Forte, as his price could drop to 1-2 again.

Local favorites Mage, Cyclone Mischief and West Coast Cowboy join talented invaders like Fort Bragg and Dubyuhnell to round out the field.

Mr. Ripple is a Gulfstream-based horse who has done the full 1 1-8 distance. Some bettors may take a stab with him underneath Forte.

Here’s another nugget about Pletcher:

With six titles, he holds the record for most Florida Derbys won by a trainer. He won with Scat Daddy (2007), Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015), Always Dreaming (2017), Audible (2018) and Known Agenda (2021). Always Dreaming went on to win the Kentucky Derby the same year he won this one.

Other recent Florida Derby champions who won the Kentucky Derby include Nyquist (2016) and Orb (2013).

Other Highlighted Races

The $250,000 Oaks will feature the early speed of Miracle and a rematch between Dorth Vader and Atomically. Last October, Atomically defeated Dorth Vader by 11 lengths.

But since then, Dorth Vader has won three of his last four races. He delighted Florida bettors with a 45-1 upset romp in the Davona Dale on March 4 at Gulfstream.

It will be interesting to gauge where the three favorites are in their careers based on the results of this event.

Kicking off the Pick 6

Why not look at the Shackleton, a $100,000 race kicking off the Pick 6 at 3:31 p.m.

Here’s the field from the rail out:

Dean Delivers

He finds himself in a better spot in a short race. Stalked a hot pace in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Mile on March 4 and couldn’t get the lead. He was nipped for third. The smaller stakes and shorter race should help his results.

Mr. Prankster

He finished fifth in the $200,000 Amsterdam at Saratoga in July. It was a talented field. This one is not quite as strong, but he’s been off for eight months. He may need a race to sharpen.


He was not running well at the end of the Gulfstream Mile and finished well behind Dean Delivers.


The name should be familiar to bettors.  He won this race last year. He has come up short in five starts since against stellar opposition but ran a good second to Florida Derby winner White Abarrio at this distance in an allowance race in March.

Weyburn fits in this race and can contend on his best day.

Celestial Gaze

He did everything asked in his last two races and won here at seven furlongs in March. That was a lower level, but repeating that form would put him in this.

Steal Sunshine

Can he steal a slice? He reached 4th in the Gulfstream Park Mile at 22-1. He was moving well at the end of the race but will have to make an earlier run at seven furlongs. Dean Delivers beat him in the Gulfstream Park Mile.

Paco’s Pico

This hard-knocking 4-year-old wins his share but is generally a candidate for the fringes of the superfectas.


He was beaten twice narrowly by Weyburn. He ran a sizzling 6-furlong effort in 1:09 and change in the last Gulfstream effort, but would need to improve to beat this field.


He was beaten decisively by a couple of horses in this field. He is the least likely win candidate, although those are famous last words.

Salute to Longshots: Gulfstream Strikes Again

“Welcome to Gulfstream”.

It was a phrase belted out by a bettor watching a 46-1 shot shock the bettors in the opening race a number of seasons back. The success of longshots is not uncommon here because the circuit brings horses from all over the country, coming from circuits that are tough to compare.

Race one every Saturday is thus a target for the bombs because it’s the opening event on a big race day. And last Saturday lived up to longshot heaven.

Ordinary, a 30-1 shot, captured the first race. And he came from the back of the pack on turf to do it.

St. Ignacio surged for second at 14-1, completing an unlikely exacta of $673. Third went to Lyle Crude at 9-2, finishing a $1 trifecta that paid a whopping $3,781. And fourth went to Shockwave at 5-1. The $2 superfecta paid $29,644, meaning the 10-center was $1,482.

Key ingredients for a monster payday are a big field on turf with maidens.

You can always take that shot with the 10-cent superfecta key, putting the horse you like first and second with five other horses for a $12 wager. If you can select the right key, you get half the field to fill the other spots.

But that’s only one angle. If you like a long shot, play that on the win line first. Nonetheless, congratulations to those who collected all or part of this payout.

Gulfstream Closing Week

As for the rest of the Gulfstream schedule, this is closing week on the championship card. Races unfold Wednesday-Sunday at 12:40 p.m., with the special Saturday card at 11:30 a.m.

Tampa Bay Highlights

Some longshots and bombs combined to provide fireworks for Tampa Bay Downs bettors last week.

The Central Florida track is popular with many bettors, combining high-level stakes races like the Tampa Bay Derby and low-level claiming events that can produce big prices.

It runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

One in the series of $110,000 races highlighted a trifecta betting pattern, the key, that we talk about in many stories.

Buddy O, even money, finished exactly where bettors hoped he would if they keyed him first and second with three other horses in the $1 trifecta.

Otago, at 13-1, ran him down in the stretch. Buddy O was second and Swan Lake was third.

The $1 trifecta in an eight-horse field was a handsome $299. The beauty of this type of bet is that a gambler didn’t necessarily have to like Otago. Patrons can back into it by sprinkling some longshots in with the favorite and hoping a longshot beats him.

A tip of the hat to those who cashed this one.

Photo by AP / Alan Diaz
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Written by
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer. He writes NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City, iGaming Player and others. For PlayFL, he will focus on the world of Florida horse racing. 

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