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Fierceness rolls to Florida Derby win at Gulfstream, looking very much like Kentucky Derby favorite

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Fierceness rolled to a dominant win in the Florida Derby on Saturday, almost certainly setting himself up as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

He went wire-to-wire on the lead, steadily opening up the margin until the field got to the turn toward home at Gulfstream Park. And from there, it was over; jockey John Velazquez got Fierceness — the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion last year — through the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 48.22 seconds.

It was the third win in five starts for Fierceness, who pushed his career earnings to about $1.7 million. Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher both extended their records of Florida Derby dominance; no jockey has more wins in that race than Velazquez’s six, and Pletcher won the race for a record eighth time.

Fierceness returned $4.20, $3.20 and $2.80. A pair of long shots also hit the board; 25-1 shot Catalytic finished second and paid $12.20 and $8; 21-1 shot Grand Mo the First was third and returned $6.40.

The win gave Fierceness 136 points in the Race to the Kentucky Derby standings, more than ensuring he’ll qualify for the May 4 race at Churchill Downs. It was big for Catalytic and Grand Mo the First as well; their finishes on Saturday should be enough to get them in the field for the Triple Crown opener.

“We’re going to go to Kentucky as the Kentucky Derby favorite,” owner Mike Repole said. “I’ve been there before.”

It was the fastest Florida Derby final time since Velazquez and Pletcher teamed up for a win with Always Dreaming in 2017; that horse went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

And Repole expects Fierceness, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by six lengths and prevailed in even more dominant fashion Saturday, to do the same.

“The fastest horse I’ve ever owned,” Repole said.

The Florida Derby — the second-biggest race each year at Gulfstream Park, topped now only by the Pegasus World Cup Invitational — has long been one of the most important, and most telling, races on the Triple Crown prep trail.

There are 21 Florida Derby winners who have gone on to win at least one race in the Triple Crown series; 15 of them won the Kentucky Derby, 10 won the Preakness and six won the Belmont Stakes.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports

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