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In past years, this would be an off weekend for Kentucky Derby-bound horses, as most would be training up to their final preps over the next 2 weeks. However, this year Gulfstream Park revamped its stakes schedule and moved the Grade 1 Florida Derby to this weekend, five weeks out from the Derby.
High Fly winner of the Florida Derby.
At the start, Noble Causeway was sharpest out of the gate but he was taken back by Edgar Prado as 8-1 shot B.B. Best took the early lead. B.B. Best was loose on the lead through a quarter in 22.94, a half in 45.89, and 3/4 in 1:09.92 as Jerry Bailey kept the favorite in a stalking position just a length and a half off the pace. Turning for home, High Fly moved up alongside the pacesetter and took the lead by the 3/16 pole, and under a strong hand ride, easily held off the late charge of Noble Causeway, who rallied well but could not gain on his stablemate through the lane. High Fly covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.43, finishing 1 1/2 lengths clear of Noble Causeway. It was 2 lengths back to B.B. Best in third.
Trainer Nick Zito, winning his first Florida Derby, said of High Fly, "You know a week ago he had a slight temperature. But all week there has been no humidity and that really helped. God takes care of me. High Fly should just train for the (Kentucky) Derby now. We'll see what happens. Maybe these are the horses that will show people that you can win the Derby off a five-week layoff."
Winning jockey Jerry Bailey said, "He broke extremely well. He was just as impressive as he was in the Fountain of Youth. I let him run along the last 100 yards. He's got a lot of plusses; he gets you out of trouble. The instant you move your hands on him, he's going to know it. He's very impressive to me."
Zito said of second place finisher Noble Causeway, "You can't give him enough credit, coming out of an allowance race and the only horse that can beat him is High Fly. He's got a great future in the Kentucky Derby, too." Jockey Edgar Prado added, "You'll hear from him in the future. Nick has done a super job with him. I'm very proud of him."
On both of his horses, Zito added, "These horses both ran really huge. They both showed a lot of courage. All the way down the lane I was yelling 'Show me your heart. Show me your heart.' And they did. They both can go a mile and a quarter. No question. It was very gratifying to watch them today."
Corey Nakatani took Thor's Echo to the front right away through a half in 46.71, while Southern Africa took back to fourth early on. Southern Africa made a 3-wide bid around the turn, briefly had the lead at the top of the stretch, but Thor's Echo fought back gamely a furlong out to prevail by a length in 1:49.59, denying jockey Jon Court his 3,000th win. It was just a neck back to 5-2 third choice Sort It Out in third.
Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said, "This has been a great team effort. I can't put into words how good it feels. I was real nervous going into the turn. Corey told me afterward he was confident the whole way."
2005 Kentucky Derby Prep Results
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