HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Ice Box, a 20-1 shot, rallied from last entering the final turn Saturday to win the $750,000 Florida Derby by a nose over fellow long shot Pleasant Prince at Gulfstream Park.
Favorite Rule finished third. Lentenor, a full-brother to the late 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, finished fourth.
Trained by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito and ridden by Jose Lezcano, Ice Box earned $450,000 for the victory and will likely make his next start in the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
Ice Box covered the 11⁄8 miles in 1:49.19.
Zito must now decide whether to train Ice Box up to the Kentucky Derby or get another race in before the Run for the Roses. The veteran trainer, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and 1994 with Go for Gin, seemed to be leaning toward training the 3-year-old son of Pulpit up to the Derby.
"It's a possibility," said Zito of running Ice Box before the Kentucky Derby. "You never say never. But this is a tough race. Obviously, he's had a tough winter like all these 3-year-olds. He's had three 11⁄8-mile races in a row. You can think about running him back in three weeks, but we have to figure out what we're going to do with him."
Ice Box broke alertly but was taken to the rail by Lezcano and dropped well behind the rest of the 11-horse field around the first turn and down the backstretch.
"I just let him go at his own pace through the first part of the race and didn't want to rush him," Lezcano said.
While Rule, winner of the Delta Jackpot and Sam F. Davis, battled on the front-end past fractions of :23.21, :46.46 and 1:10.76, Ice Box raced well back before making his move entering the final turn.
Following Lentenor between horses past the three-eighths pole, Lezcano guided Ice Box five-wide entering the stretch. Despite taking the lead from a game Rule at the sixteenth pole, Pleasant Prince couldn't hold off Ice Box at the finish.
"I got into him a little more at the three-eighths and that's when he took off and started flying," Lezcano said.
Jockey John Velazquez said Rule, who had a four-race winning streak snapped, probably went too fast early in the race.
"It was hard with all those sprinters in there," Velazquez said. "I knew we were going too fast, but it was hard settling down with all of them. I probably should have taken my horse out of there (the pace battle) from the beginning."
Soaring Empire, owned by Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, was no factor while finishing eighth.
The horse that might have had the best day was not even in the race. Ice Box finished 12 lengths behind Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth, the same race in which Pleasant Prince finished fourth, 101/4 lengths behind the winner. The results of the Florida Derby suggest that Eskendereya is the class of his crop.
Owned by Ahmed Zayat, Eskendereya was expected to run in the Florida Derby, but Zayat pulled him out of the race earlier in the week and said the colt would race instead in the Wood Memorial on April 3 at Aqueduct.
D' Funnybone rolls
D' Funnybone took over midway through the Grade II Swale Stakes and held off Ibboyee to win by 11/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park.
The Rick Dutrow-trained colt will probably be pointed toward the Preakness.
"It looked like he was pretty much in control all the way," Dutrow said. "My first choice for him next would be the Withers (April 24 at Aqueduct), a one-turn mile, then see where we are."
Hollywood cuts dates
ARCADIA, Calif. — Hollywood Park will reduce its racing schedule from five days to four during some weeks of its upcoming spring-summer meet because of a shortage of horses to run.
The change in plans will result in five fewer racing days.