St. Elias Homebred Known Agenda Gives Pletcher His Sixth Florida Derby

St. Elias Stable’s Known Agenda received a perfect trip from Irad Ortiz Jr. to win Saturday’s $750,000 Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, providing the defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning rider with his record-breaking 138th victory of the 2020-2021 Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Known Agenda ($12.80) also provided his trainer Todd Pletcher with his record sixth success in the Florida Derby while also earning a stall in the starting gate in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

“It has so many great meanings but for me what is so special about this is to win it for St. Elias with a horse that they bred,” Pletcher said. “I know how much that means to them, that makes it a little more extra special for us.”

St. Elias is operated by Vincent and Teresa Viola.

The 70th running of the Curlin Florida Derby headlined a 14-race program with 10 stakes, six graded. The tradition-rich 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds, which has produced the winners of 60 Triple Crown races, offered 170 qualifying points for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) on a 100-40-20-10 basis.

Courtlandt Farms’ Greatest Honour, the 4-5 favorite who had won the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (G3) and Feb. 27 Fountain of Youth (G2), finished third and Nova Rags fourth.

Updated Kentucky Derby leaderboard

Known Agenda, who had captured a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance by 11 lengths Feb. 26 at Gulfstream, settled in fifth while saving ground as Nova Rags set the pace, pressed by Soup and Sandwich, around the first turn and along the backstretch, producing fractions of 23.43 and 47.73 seconds for the first half mile. Nova Rags and Soup and Sandwich continued to lead the 11-horse field into the homestretch turn, where Ortiz found room to slip Known Agenda off the rail and made a three-wide move around Nova Rags and Soup and Sandwich. The son of Curlin kicked in powerfully through the stretch to score by 2 ¾ lengths.

“I was really pleased with the progress he was making up the backside because one of the things we were a little bit worried about was if he got stuck inside, he didn’t seem to handle that in the Remsen [last fall] very well. A lot of horses are more confident when they’re outside in the clear,” Pletcher said. “When he was making progress up the backside and picking off horses while he was inside and behind horses, I had a pretty good feeling at that point that he was running his race today and that it was a matter of – we’re going to find out how good he is.”

Known Agenda received a ground-saving trip because Ortiz had no other viable options.

The Florida Derby winner is led into the winner’s circle

“The instructions were to try and stay as close as I can without going too crazy and start working my way out and put the horse in the clear outside. I saw a couple horses outside of me and I had to take a hold to go around and I said it was too much, so I just followed the flow of the race,” said Ortiz after surpassing Luis Saez’s old record of 137 set during the 2017-2018 Championship Meet. “I had to go to the rail, and it worked out great. When I took him out he started rolling.”

Soup and Sandwich, ridden by John Velazquez, raced greenly through the stretch but held on to finish second, three lengths ahead of Greatest Honour. Nova Rags faded to fourth. Collaborate, who stalked the early pace into the far turn, finished fifth. Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg was bumped at the start and was never a factor while finishing seventh.

Known Agenda ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.45 in his third start of the year to capture his first stakes. The homebred colt had finished fifth in the Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs before winning impressively in his Feb. 26 romp while equipped with blinkers for the first time.

“We were looking for a couple of things in that last race. One, to see if blinkers made an improvement in his being a little more tactical and secondly, we wanted to see how he handled the Gulfstream surface. I thought we got very good answers to both of those questions,” Pletcher said. “The only thing was we were taking a fairly significant step back in class. It wasn’t an overwhelming field, but the way he did it, to win by 11 anytime in a race like that, and [jockey] Irad [Ortiz Jr.] kind of wrapped up on him the last part, I thought it was not only an impressive race but a step in the right direction. It showed us that the blinkers helped and that he handled Gulfstream.”

Known Agenda’s Florida Derby score was not the first time the Pletcher trainee was able to defeat Greatest Honour. He beat the McGaughey trainee by a head while graduating in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Aqueduct Nov. 8.

Greatest Honour, who raced inside of horses along the backstretch, found running room entering the stretch but was unable to make a serious challenge while closing to third under Jose Ortiz.

“I thought we were OK on the turn there and he just didn’t kick on the way I thought he would,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. “I thought he ran fine. I think the winner ran a huge race.”

McGaughey said that Greatest Honour will be pointed toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, for which he has 80 qualifying points.

“As of right now, yeah. We just have to see how he is,” he said. “He belongs, as long as he’s OK.”

Greatest Honour’s jockey was far from discouraged by his mount’s first defeat in four starts at Gulfstream.

“He broke a little slow like he always does. I tried to be aggressive but I wasn’t fast enough to make it into a nice position, so I had to take him back and drop in. Actually, I had Known Agenda in front of me and I followed him the whole way,” Ortiz said. “At the three-eighths pole I kept following him. I felt like I was in contention at the quarter-pole, but the winner ran a nice race. He was the best horse today, but we’ll turn the tables on them on Derby day, that’s for sure.”

Trainer Mark Casse said Soup and Sandwich, who earned 40 qualifying points in his stakes debut, would be pointed toward the Kentucky Derby with the hopes that the son of Tapit has earned sufficient points to get into the field.

“I was very pleased, especially if he ever learns what he’s doing. [Jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] said he had to fight with him a little. He stayed on his left lead all the way down the stretch. He’s like that in the morning, too,” Casse said. “The thing that will help him is it was a little difficult to ship him down from Palm Meadows. It got him a little worked up. He’ll run a lot better out of his stall at Churchill Downs.”

Pletcher had previously visited the Florida Derby winner’s circle with Scat Daddy (2007), Constitution (2013), Materiality (2014), Always Dreaming (2017) and Audible (2018).

The post St. Elias Homebred Known Agenda Gives Pletcher His Sixth Florida Derby appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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