Shug McGaughey just doesn’t take a horse to the Kentucky Derby for the sake of going. He only goes when he believes there’s a serious chance to win.
Greatest Honour might be the next horse from McGaughey’s barn to earn that shot.
The Hall of Fame trainer will send Greatest Honour into Saturday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida as the 6-5 morning-line favorite, and that could be the last stop between the son of Tapit and the Kentucky Derby in five weeks.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” McGaughey said. “These races get more difficult as they go along, but I think he can overcome that kind of stuff.”
Greatest Honour has already won the first two key Derby prep races at Gulfstream this year — the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth — and now goes for the South Florida sweep, though it’ll hardly be easy. A field of 11 entered the race, which offers 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
Greatest Honour, which already has 60 Derby points and is basically a lock to qualify, is starting from the No. 7 post. The Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg is the 4-1 second choice and will start from the No. 10 post, while third choice Known Agenda has odds of 5-1 for trainer Todd Pletcher and will start in the No. 8 spot.
Baffert has been the winning trainer in the last two Pegasus World Cups at Gulfstream, but this will be his Florida Derby debut.
“Maybe I can get lucky if I can win or run second,” Baffert said. “That would be nice. But it’s a tough task. We’ll give it a try.”
Baffert and Pletcher go to the Kentucky Derby pretty much every year, often with multiple horses. McGaughey is much pickier and has only been there twice since 2002 — both times with the Florida Derby as the last stop on that trail. Orb won the Florida Derby and then won the Run for the Roses in 2013; Code of Honor was third in the Florida Derby two years ago and then placed second in the Kentucky Derby.
Greatest Honour, should he come out of Saturday healthy, will likely follow their path. And to earn that chance out of McGaughey’s barn says plenty.
“My philosophy is unless we think we deserve to be there, we won’t be there,” McGaughey said.
The field, from the rail out, for the Florida Derby, a $750,000 Grade 1 race: Nova Rags, 12-1; Quantum Leap, 20-1; Jirafales, 30-1; Southern Passage, 30-1; Known Agenda; Sigiloso, 30-1; Greatest Honour; Soup And Sandwich, 20-1; Collaborate, 6-1; Spielberg; and Papetu, 15-1.