Heading into the Florida Derby this year it seemed like we were about to watch two future Kentucky Derby entrants - two year old champion and the undefeated Mohaymen. After an unexpected race that saw Nyquist run away with things and Mohaymen forget to show up and finish a dismal fourth, we now have four horses likely to head to Kentucky. Nyquist is obviously going. Mohaymen will pretend this race never happened and head there, too. Surprise second-place finisher Majesto is aiming for Kentucky, too. And so, too, is third-place finisher Fellowship, who finished third so many times this spring he finally earned a spot out of persistence more than raw talent.
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On my most cynical day I would argue that a horse like Fellowship is an argument against having a 20-horse field for the Derby. There is nothing wrong with this horse - he is nice in many ways. He just hasn't been proven to be good enough to beat the best up to this point. He likely won't be a big factor in the Derby, and if he does get lucky and win it then he would be at risk of being another Giacomo - a soon-to-be-forgotten blip in history. A 14-horse field wouldn't be quite as crazy, and it would keep marginal horses like this out. Then again, it also wouldn't be the Derby. Maybe I just need to get over myself and enjoy horses like Fellowship in the field for what they are. If nothing else, it's one less horse I have to consider betting to win.
Last race: In the Florida Derby Fellowship came out of the gate and promptly went to the back of the pack - as he has shown his tendency to do throughout his career. He looked comfortable and unhurried as the race developed ahead of him. When he did start moving it was more determined than explosive. He negotiated his way through the field, weaving in and out to find his path, and consistently gaining until the end. He was never a legitimate threat to the top-two finishers but was the best of the rest.
Prior experience: One thing you can't knock this horse for is experience - he has a ton of it. He broke his maiden on his first try way back in May, and the Florida Derby was his 11th start. That should make him the most experienced Derby starter. All 11 races have been in Florida - nine at Gulfstream and two at Gulfstream West (formerly Calder). He has just one win since his maiden - in a restricted stakes race in October. Prior to the Florida Derby he had made two graded stakes appearances, in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, which are the key preps for the Florida Derby. The races were virtual carbon copies - he was well behind early, made a steady move to pick up tired runners, and wound up a non-threatening third behind winner Mohaymen.
Trainer: Stanley Gold is a journeyman trainer on the Florida circuit - and I don't mean that as an insult. He got his first win in 1979 and has never cracked the Top 60 in earnings nationally, but he is consistent and knows his stuff. He got more serious in 2006 and had his best year last year. By far the highlight of his career came in 2010 when he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Awesome Feather. That horse was sold and moved from his barn after that win. He also had Awesome Banner on the Derby trail this year, but he fell off after a disappointing outing in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Jockey: Jose Lezcano has been aboard for the last two outings. He also rides Laoban, who is trying to use the Blue Grass Stakes as a springboard to the Derby, so the jockey will have a decision to make. Lezcano has won three Breeders' Cup races and was second in the 2010 Derby with Ice Box, so he would be a capable rider. If he goes elsewhere, though, other solid riders will be available.
Breeding: Fellowship is a son of Awesome of Course, a son of the great Awesome Again. Awesome of Course is a solid Florida stallion that did little on the track and has made little national impact aside from his daughter Awesome Feather. Thanks to Awesome Again, this stud has some solid stamina influences. His damsire is Demidoff, a regally-bred horse that did nothing on the track and not much more in the breeding shed. Add it all up and you have breeding that is a touch more obscure than many in the Derby field but still possessing lots of quality and stamina. It won't be breeding that gets in the way of Derby success for this horse.
Odds: We don't know much at this point other than that the odds will be long when we know them. BetOnline does not have him among the 45 horses with futures odds assigned. The final official Kentucky Derby futures pool took place the same weekend as the Florida Derby, so he was not one of the 20 individual horses listed and would just be part of the mutuel field at 10/1.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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