17 Of The 20 Kentucky Derby Contenders Have Florida Ties

Classic Empire Among The Derby Contenders With Florida Ties

Ocala, Florida, the breeding grounds of race horses. Many horse racing legends have ties to the city that is known for breeding and starting young racehorses with promises of the Kentucky Derby in their future.

17 of the 20 horses in today’s Kentucky Derby have Marion County ties. Most of them were foaled in Ocala, but for Classic Empire the city was more than just his birthplace.

Classic Empire

The young horse is known by his trainer as “racing’s bad boy,” due to his rebellious side. He won the first two races he ran in last year (both at Churchill Downs) before throwing his rider at the start of Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga in September. After this, he came back to win two Grade 1 wins last fall, which included the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but threw away the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream and refused to train for several weeks after that.

When the young horse refused to train in March trainer Mark E. Casse made a critical call to send Classic Empire back to Ocala. The young stallion learned to be a racehorse as a yearling in Ocala and would return to be reunited with his first exercise rider, Martin Rivera.

Classic Empire. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

“We just thought he needed a change of pace. He didn’t really seem to like it at Palm Meadows,” Casse said to Ocala.com.

His time at Winding Oaks Farm was exactly what the youngster needed. In April he won the Arkansas Derby and has been on his best behavior since.

Always Dreaming

The new favorite in today’s race came to Ocala as a yearling. Always Dreaming came to Crupi’s New Castle Farm a little small, but he grew and developed into a Derby contender.

Always Dreaming. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

In summer 2016 Always Dreaming had an abscess in one of his back feet and was sent back to New Castle for treatment and rehab. He has won three races including the Florida Derby since.


The wildcard favorite got started as a yearling in Ocala.


As a yearling the racehorse sold for $16,000 and has earned about $1.2 million on the track since. He was broke and trained at Altamira Stable in Ocala.


Though a long shot, this horse has power. He was once owned by country music singer Toby Keith.

The colt was bought by Keith for $150,000 as a yearling and he sold Untrapped for $125,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale in April 2016 as a 2-year-old sale.

Untrapped was also broke and trained at Crupi’s New Castle Farm as a yearling.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, right, brings Kentucky Derby 143 hopeful Hence, left, with exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard, back to Barn 38 following a morning gallop at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, Apr. 30, 2017. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

Other Ocala ties (per Ocala.com):

Girvin 15-1: Broke by Bobby Dodd at Grand Oaks Training Center in Reddick. Owned by Brad Grady, Grand Oaks owner.

Hence 15-1: Broke by Ian Brennan at Stonestreet Training Center in Summerfield.

Gormley 15-1: Broke at McKathan Brothers Training Center in Citra.

Irap 20-1: Broke by Bobby Dodd at Grand Oaks Training Center in Reddick.

J Boys Echo 20-1: Broke at Abracadabra Farms in Ocala.

Exercise rider Silvio Pioli gallops Kentucky Derby entrant Tapwrit for trainer Todd Pletcher at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Photo: AP Photo/Garry Jones

Tapwrit 20-1: Broke at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala.

Practical Joke 20-1: Broke at de Meric Thoroughbred Sales in Ocala.

State of Honor 30-1: Broke by Mark Casse in Ocala.

Battle of Midway 30-1: Broke at Lynwood Stable in Ocala. Bred by Pavla and Erik Nygaard (Thor-Bred Stables) owners of Ocala Jockey Club.

Fast and Accurate 50-1: Broke by Ciaran Dunne at Wavertree Stables in Ocala. Also trained at Woodford Thoroughbreds in Reddick

Sonneteer 50-1: Broke by Ian Brennan at Stonestreet Training Center in Summerfield.