HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Known Agenda owner Vincent Viola kept asking trainer Todd Pletcher the same question over the past few days.
"Do you think we really have a shot in the Florida Derby?"
Pletcher kept telling him the answer was yes. And the horse left no doubt.
Known Agenda ran away from the field in the Florida Derby on Saturday -- and might keep on going all the way to Churchill Downs to start the Triple Crown season. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. guided Known Agenda to the win in the Grade 1, $750,000 race at Gulfstream Park, picking up 100 Kentucky Derby standings points, which will be more than enough to qualify him for that race in five weeks.
"Well, that's certainly the hope," Pletcher said.
Pletcher won the Florida Derby for a record sixth time, and Known Agenda covered the 1⅛ miles on the dirt in 1 minutes, 49.45 seconds. He returned $12.80 for the win, $6.60 to place and $3.20 to show.
Soup and Sandwich was second and heavily favored Greatest Honour -- who came into the race with more than enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby -- settled for third. Greatest Honour ran into traffic coming out of the gate and was nowhere near the front as the group headed into the first turn, then settled in along the rail and simply waited for an opening.
By the time he found open space, it was too late. Known Agenda moved into the lead around the top of the stretch and then took off, winning by 2¾ lengths in a margin that probably could have been bigger if Ortiz asked.
"Greatest Honour was one of the top horses in the country and he was in the race, so we were going to find out what we've got," Ortiz said.
Soup and Sandwich picked up 40 Derby standings points, and Greatest Honour got 20.
Viola also owns the Florida Panthers, who are well on their way to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and now he's almost certainly headed back to the Kentucky Derby. Plus, he leads the group that bred Known Agenda -- so this win was doubly significant to him.
"How does it feel? You feel undeserving, quite frankly," Viola said. "Todd has been very patient with this horse from the moment he got him, very confident."
Viola had to be talked out of a plan to send Known Agenda to the Santa Anita Derby, simply because he didn't think the horse was ready for the Florida Derby.
He was thrilled to be wrong.
"You couldn't write it any differently," Viola said. "Everything Todd described to me when they were in the gate actually happened in the race."
In other full-point Derby prep races Saturday:
Long-shot Rebel's Romance ($26.10) rolled to an easy win in Saturday's UAE Derby at Dubai, United Arab Emirates, earning 100 points in the Kentucky Derby standings and essentially clinching a spot in the field -- though it remains unknown if owner Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and trainer Charlie Appleby will send him over. Panadol was second and New Treasure was third.
JEFF RUBY STEAKS
Like The King ($16) survived an objection that was made postrace and prevailed in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, in Florence, Kentucky, also earning 100 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Sainthood was second and Hockey Dad was third.