Gulfstream Park announced a record number of Early Bird nominations for the March 13 Florida Derby (gr. I). There are already 160 horses nominated to the $1 million Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prep.
There are alternate ways to nominate to the Florida Derby: A top-three finish in the Jan. 17 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), and/or the Feb. 14 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) or the Fountain of Youth Stakes that same day will do it, as will a $3,000 late-nomination payment by March 3, or a $25,000 payment on the day of entries, March 10.
The number of early nominations easily surpasses the 134 from 1992.
"Every top 2-year-old in the United States is an Early Bird nominee," said Gulfstream director of racing David F. Bailey, "as is the winner of practically every major race for 2-year-olds in the United States."
Last year's Florida Derby provided the stage for Empire Maker's debut in the national spotlight, and his performance resulted in an impressive win.
On the list of this year's Early Bird nominees are Action This Day and Minister Eric, the Richard Mandella-trained tandem that finished first and second in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). A third Mandella charge, Siphonizer, who edged Minister Eric in the Del Mar Futurity, is also on the list.
Trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, has four horses nominated for the 2004 edition, three of whom are major stakes winners: Eurosilver won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II), The Cliff's Edge won the Iroquois (gr. III) and Birdstone won the Champagne Stakes (gr. I).
Cuvee, the BC Juvenile favorite after his victories in the Futurity (gr. I) at Belmont and the Saratoga Special (gr. II), is also a nominee. He is trained by Steve Asmussen.
The pride of Canada, Smoocher, winner of the Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes, is on the list, as is multiple stakes winner Chapel Royal, one of the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the winner of the Sanford (gr. II) and the Flash (gr. III).
Trainer Michael Dickinson nominated Tapit, his Laurel Futurity (gr. III) winner.
The best South Florida hopes come in the form of two horses that have already proven their mettle: Silver Wagon and Sir Oscar. The Ralph Ziadie-trained Silver Wagon shocked the summer set at Saratoga with his longshot victory in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), in which he beat both Chapel Royal and Birdstone. Sir Oscar, with Manny Azpurua calling the shots, swept the Florida Stallion Series, then took on and defeated the much-heralded Wynn Dot Comma in last Saturday's Jack Price Stakes and remains unbeaten after six races.