MIAMI – Jack Knowlton has a condo about a mile away from the finish line at Gulfstream Park. And that’s as close as he will get to the winner’s circle on Saturday.
He’s hoping his horse can get there anyway.
The 69th running of the Florida Derby is Saturday, and it will be like none other — no fans in the stands, no owners allowed at the track, no bets being placed on site. The coronavirus pandemic forced massive changes in the interest of health and safety to what is typically the signature day on Gulfstream’s annual calendar, but the race is still set to go on as scheduled.
Tiz the Law, owned by Knowlton, is the 6-5 morning-line favorite. The race was drawn Wednesday to be a field of 12 in the $750,000, nine-furlong run over Gulfstream’s dirt, but relative long shots Soros and Ajaaweed have since been scratched.
“We planned probably 60 or 70 of our people were going to be down for the race,” Knowlton said. “Obviously, the world changed all of our plans.”
The Florida Derby winner will surely pick up enough standings points to clinch a spot in the Kentucky Derby, and the runner-up likely will as well. And even though the Triple Crown season has been delayed — the Kentucky Derby has been moved from May to September — the rules still apply, meaning if there is a Run for the Roses the points system for qualifying will still be utilized.
“In uncertain times like this, we felt like we need to go ahead and take what’s right in front of us now as opposed to possibly waiting around for something else,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has two entries for the Florida Derby in Gouverneur Morris and Candy Tycoon.
Pletcher’s plans for the race changed a bit when Javier Castellano, who was to ride Candy Tycoon, was diagnosed this week with coronavirus. It was caught in a physical that was mandated by track officials as a condition of Castellano -- who has been in New York, one of the hotspots of this pandemic -- being cleared to race again at Gulfstream, where he last rode on March 15.
“It is because of our strict protocols requiring all jockeys to be screened prior to entering the facility that Javier’s symptoms were recognized and he was able to be tested for which we know he is thankful,” Gulfstream officials said in a statement released by the track.