HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Quality Road established himself as a leading Kentucky Derby candidate by turning back the previously undefeated Dunkirk through the stretch to win Saturday's $750,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in track-record time.
Quality Road ($4.40), who had to survive a claim of foul by Kent Desormeaux, the rider of third-place finisher Theregoesjojo, completed 1 1/8 miles 1:47.72. His time was .07 of a second faster than Brass Hat's previous mark, set winning the Donn Handicap in 2006. It was the second course record set on Saturday's card.
As was the case four weeks earlier when he captured the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Quality Road stalked the early leader under confident handling by jockey John Velazquez. Quality Road engaged Casey's On Call to wrest control midway around the second turn, came out slightly entering the stretch, withstood a surge by Dunkirk, then edged out to a 1 3/4-length victory.
Dunkirk, the even-money favorite, rated about eight lengths off the pace before commencing his bid leaving the backstretch. Dunkirk moved swiftly to join the leaders four wide into the stretch but could not match strides with Quality Road through the final furlong.
Theregoesjojo attempted to rally with the winner into the stretch, took up sharply between Quality Road and Dunkirk at the head of the lane, and quickly dropped out of contention.
Velazquez said he didn't understand the reason for the objection against him.
"I stayed in the same lane from the quarter pole all the way to the wire," he said.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he was delighted with Quality Road's performance.
"He ran terrific," said Jerkens. "He relaxed nicely, went on when Johnny asked him, and finished very strong. He won't race again until the Derby. We'll probably keep him right down here and proceed directly to Churchill Downs."
Todd Pletcher was happy with Dunkirk's effort but a bit frustrated when it came to the condition of the racetrack.
"Obviously they sped up the racetrack today," he said. "There were two or three track records set, and obviously it was to our disadvantage considering our horse's style. If I knew the track would have been like this, I'd have gone to Aqueduct next week to run in the Wood. But I thought my horse ran terrific. He's made huge strides in a short time."