HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., April 2 -- High Fly took off in the stretch and won the $1 million Florida Derby on Saturday, giving trainer Nick Zito yet another big victory on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Seizing the lead on the turn for home, High Fly held off stablemate Noble Causeway by 1 1/2 lengths, giving Zito a 1-2 finish and his first Florida Derby win after an 0-for-16 run.
High Fly, ridden by Jerry Bailey, has now won five of six career starts and dominated the meet at Gulfstream Park, taking the Aventura, Fountain of Youth and topping off the campaign with his impressive win in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.
The victory on a cool and overcast day establishes High Fly as a top contender for the Kentucky Derby in five weeks, and is just one of five 3-year-olds Zito could saddle in the run for the roses.
Noble Causeway, in his stakes debut after winning his first two starts this year, made a late bid under Edgar Prado, and also is headed to the Kentucky Derby.
"Why not?" Zito said. "I have two legitimate horses."
B.B. Best set the pace and then gave way to High Fly. Noble Causeway finished strong and allowed Zito to become the first trainer in 30 years to go 1-2 in the Florida Derby.
High Fly, a Kentucky-bred son of Atticus, won in a time of 1 minute 49.43 seconds, and earned $600,000 for Campbell Soups heiress Charlotte Porter, who operates Live Oak Plantation. The chestnut colt, an 8-5 favorite, has career earnings of $897,300.
Zito was just as proud of Noble Causeway. "You can't give him enough credit because he's coming out of an allowance race," he said. "And the only horse that beat him was High Fly."
Park Avenue Ball was fourth, followed by Mighty Mecke, Vicarage, Papi Chullo, Evil Minister and Wallstreet Scandal.
Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez teamed up to win three of the four stakes races on the Gulfstream undercard.
Honey Ryder edged Ellieonthemarch in the $150,000 Orchid Handicap; Value Plus pulled away in the stretch for an easy victory in the $100,000 Artax Handicap; and Navesink River took the lead in the stretch and beat Quest Star in the $150,000 Pan American Handicap.
Velazquez had a chance to make it four stakes wins, but finished out of the money aboard Ole Faunty in the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap, won by Eurosilver.