HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A mix of talent, opportunity and timing has produced Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s first venture to Gulfstream Park for the $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa.
Baffert, the most successful trainer in Triple Crown history, will make his debut Saturday in Gulfstream Park’s steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Spielberg, a chestnut son of Union Rags. Spielberg, who will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano in the 70th Florida Derby, won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) on Dec. 19. In his most recent start, Spielberg finished second to Essential Quality, the 2020 2-year-old male champion, in the Southwest (G3) on Feb. 27 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
Based in Southern California, Baffert has recorded some important victories in his 21 starts at Gulfstream Park. Twenty-nine years ago, he picked up his first Breeders’ Cup win with Thirty Slews in the Sprint (G1). More recently, he has won two runnings of the Pegasus World Cup (G1).
Again this year, Baffert has a deep lineup of Kentucky Derby prospects vying for qualifying points for the May 1 Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs. He said the Florida Derby, with its 170 qualifying points contested five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, fit his schedule. Though unbeaten San Felipe (G2) winner Life is Good will miss the Triple Crown while recovering from an injury that required surgery, Baffert has San Felipe runner-up Medina Spirit for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and the first two finishers in the Rebel (G2), Concert Tour and Hozier, for the Arkansas Derby (G1).
He opted to send Spielberg to South Florida, where he will face Greatest Honour, whose three victories over the track include the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Holy Bull (G3).
“I have all these horses and I’m going to separate them out,” Baffert said. “[Spielberg] ran well at Arkansas. Broke horribly, came on and ran second. He wasn’t going to beat the winner. We’ll take him down there [to Florida]. See how he ships down there and see how he stacks up. The California horses, I think, are pretty strong. Maybe I can get lucky if I can win or run second. That would be nice. But it’s a tough task. We’ll give it a try.”
The partnership of SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm LLC and Robert E. Masterson purchased Spielberg for $1 million as a yearling as the 2019 Keeneland September sale. He developed nicely and Baffert sent him out for his first race on Aug. 8 at Del Mar. After that second-place finish, Baffert moved him into Grade 1 company, where he was second in the Del Mar Futurity and third as the favorite in the American Pharoah. He stepped back into a maiden race to capture his first win by a neck and has been in graded stakes since. The Florida Derby will be his ninth career start, the most for any of the horses expected to be entered for the 1 1/8 miles race.
Spielberg had problems at the start of his last two races, which left him far off the early pace and compromised his chances. He was bumped at the start of the Robert Lewis (G3) on Jan. 30 and ended up fourth. In the Southwest under Martin Garcia, he was not prepared when the gates opened.
Repeating his mantra, what he typically offers in his pre-race analysis, Baffert said, “They’ve got to get away. To me, it’s all about getting away. They’ve got to get away from there.” Baffert did say that Spielberg ran well in the Southwest after the poor start.
Through the years while amassing a record-tying six wins in the Kentucky Derby and a record 16 victories in the Triple Crown, Baffert has won prep races in New York, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. He selected the Florida Derby for Spielberg because of its place on the calendar five weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby, rather than four-week options.
Spielberg’s sire, Union Rags, was third as the favorite in the 2012 Florida Derby. He went on to capture the Belmont Stakes (G1) and is one of the 60 winners of Triple Crown races who have competed in the Florida Derby.
According to Equibase statistics, Baffert has a 4-4-2 record in his 21 starts, all in stakes races, at Gulfstream Park and has earned $12,362,950 in purse money. Each of the victories was in a Grade 1 race. Baffert won with his first Gulfstream runner, Thirty Slews in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup, and with his his most recent starter, Mucho Gusto in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup. He also won the 2001 Donn Handicap with Captain Steve and the inaugural Pegasus World Cup with Arrogate.
Prior to Arrogate’s victory in 2017, the trainer’s first Gulfstream starter in 10 years, Baffert reflected on Thirty Slews’ victory. He said it was “just like a fairy tale race for me,” with the first Thoroughbred he had purchased – for $30,000 – as he transitioned from training Quarter Horses.
“When he hit the wire, I was up there in the box and I thought that I had reached just the pinnacle of my career,” he said, laughing. “I thought, ‘Man, this is not going to get any better than this.’ I had just won a Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I was just jumping up and down.”
Post positions for the Florida Derby will be drawn Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. and can be viewed at GulfstreamPark.com.
Gulfstream Park Press Release
Photo: Bob Baffert, (Coglianese)