Ice Box, trained by Nick Zito, earned a berth in the May 1 Kentucky Derby with a gutsy off-the-pace win in the $750,000 G1 Florida Derby, on Saturday, March 20.
Sent off at 20 to 1 under jockey Jose Lezcano, Ice Box trailed the 11-horse field, until he swung five-wide in the stretch to hold off an inside challenge by Pleasant Prince and win by a nose.
“I was a little worried that I would have to go too wide on the turn and use him too much,” said Lezcano. “But I knew I had to get him in the clear so he could keep up his run.”
It was the third time Ice Box has raced at one and one-eighth miles this year. He won an allowance over the same distance in January, and finished fifth in the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in February.
“We expected him to be well of the pace early in the race and then make his run,” said Zito, who conditions the colt for Robert LaPenta. “I can’t say enough about his rider.”
Rule, the 2 t0 1 favorite trained by Todd Pletcher, ended a four-win streak to place third, one and one-half lengths behind Pleasant Prince. Three of Rule’s wins came in stakes races, including his most recent, the Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, but the Florida Derby was his first effort at one and one-eighth miles.
“Johnny (Valezquez, Rule’s rider) said that he ended up going quicker into the first turn than he really wanted to,” said Pletcher. “It wasn’t that he wouldn’t rate, but if he could do it over again, he would have gotten him to settle a little more and sooner.”
Ice Box, sired by Pulpit and out of a Tabasco Cat mare, was a $125,000 Keeneland yearling purchase. The $450,000 Florida Derby winner’s purse increased his career total to $506,534.
This was the second Florida Derby victory for Zito, who won the 2005 edition with High Fly. He also won the Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold in 1991 and with Go for Gin in 1994. Among other clients, Zito and fellow Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas oversee selection and training for recently formed Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable in Lexington, KY.