HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The Todd Pletcher-trained Always Dreaming coasted to a five-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, registering the fastest clocking in 39 years.
Owned by Brooklyn Boyz Stable, MeB Racing Stable, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, and St. Elias Stables, Always Dreaming was timed for the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.47, the fastest clocking since Alydar won the 1978 Florida Derby in 1:47.
In addition to earning the $600,000 winner’s share of the purse, the 3-year-old son of Bodemeister earned 100 qualifying points to earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6. Three of his stablemates, Tapwrit, Malagacy, and Patch, have already earned enough points to participate in the first leg of the Triple Crown. Pletcher, the 14-time Gulfstream Championship meet titlist, has a few other prominent colts scheduled to run in upcoming preps for the Run for the Roses.
“The horse has been training exceptionally well and we were confident he was going to run as well as he’s capable of, and thankfully, he did,” Pletcher said. “I have to be honest with you, he was training so well that I would have been disappointed had he not run well, but that was a very impressive performance. Certainly, that’s why we were here today, to hopefully get the points to go on.”
Always Dreaming gave both Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez their fourth victories in Gulfstream Park’s signature race, which put each man atop their respective categories. The historic 1 1/8-mile event has produced the winners of 58 Triple Crown races, including 23 Kentucky Derby champions. Nyquist emerged undefeated from last year’s Florida Derby with a 1 1/4-length victory and went on to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs five weeks later.
Pletcher saddled Scat Daddy (2007) for his first Florida Derby success, followed by back-to-back triumphs from Constitution (2014) and Materiality (2015). Pletcher had been in a three-way tie for the most Florida Derby wins by a trainer, with Nick Zito and John Veitch. Velazquez had been in a six-way tie with Edgar Prado, Jerry Bailey, Mike Smith, Bill Shoemaker, and Bill Hartack for the most Florida Derby wins by a jockey. His first three Florida Derby wins were aboard Quality Road (2009), Orb (2013), and Materiality.
Always Dreaming broke alertly to stalk the pacesetter Three Rules past fractions of 23.28, 47.08, and 1:10.75 for the first six furlongs. Gunnevera, the even-money favorite in a field of 10, settled well off the pace after breaking from the far outside post position. Always Dreaming, the 5-2 second betting choice, moved alongside a tiring Three Rules at the top of the stretch and drew off to score convincingly. State of Honor, who saved ground behind Three Rules, finished second under Julien Leparoux, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Gunnevera, who made up ground under Javier Castellano through the stretch without posing a win threat.
“Castellano told me the post position was a little problem, but the horse wasn’t comfortable in the beginning,” said trainer Antonio Sano. “He finished strong, but the horses in the front weren’t stopping. I’m happy. This is an important race to win, but it was a good race for the next one.”
Castellano said Gunnevera, who had won the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4 to amass enough qualifying points to earn a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, didn’t bring his A-game.
“I was riding, riding all the way in the race,” Castellano said. “He never grabbed the bit, he never pulled like he always used to. Maybe he was affected by the track – the track was speed today. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it today.”
Always Dreaming raced twice last year before breaking through in his third career start at Tampa Bay Downs on January 25, capturing a maiden special weight race by more than 11 lengths. He followed up that win with a 4-length victory in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream on the undercard of the Fountain of Youth.
“I think the whole program really helped today,” Pletcher said. “We brought him along gradually, opted for the allowance race on Fountain of Youth day and I think all that paid off.
“With two mile-and-an-eighth wins and the way he galloped out today, I’m confident he’ll get the [1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby] trip,” he added. “Like always, you want them to stay healthy, and you have to have some good luck for the next five weeks.”
State of Honor, the 4-1 third choice who finished second behind Tapwrit in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11, is expected to join Always Dreaming and Gunnevera at Churchill Downs for the Derby.
“I had a really good trip,” said Leparoux. “We took the blinkers off. He was a little keen the last time at Tampa, so we took the blinkers off and tried to rate him a little bit. He was a little keen on the first turn, but he switched off on the backside and he was just second-best. We got through on the fence and he gave me all he’s got. He was just second-best.”
Impressive Edge raced evenly to finish fourth, followed by Three Rules, Talk Logistics, Coleman Rocky, Unbridled Holiday, Charlie the Greek, and Quinientos.
Always Dreaming returned $7.40, $3.80, and $2.60. State of Honor brought back $4.80 and $2.80, while Gunnevera paid $2.10 to show.
Co-owner Anthony Bonomo, Always Dreaming: “Well, I don’t know what to say, because it’s so exciting. All day, you’re nervous leading up to the race, and it’s your dream to run a race like this, and to win it is unbelievable. I don’t know what to feel like anymore except to know I’m elated. When we saw him making the turn we knew he had a lot of horse and we knew that’s how he likes to run. We thought he had enough to come home and win, and there’s nothing like watching your horse pass the finish line. It’s exciting. It’s really a great race. I’ll think about [the Kentucky Derby] in about nine hours. Right now, this was a great win and we’re just thrilled. He’s a good horse.”
Jockey Javier Castellano, Gunnevera: “I had a good trip. I saved all the ground in the first turn. I did the right thing for the horse and I tried to develop the horse. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it today.”
Trainer Mark Casse, State of Honor: “He was rank and he calmed down a little bit. Maybe off of this race, he will relax a little bit more. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw him in Kentucky.”
Trainer Dale Romans, Impressive Edge: “Still proud of him. He ran a big race. First time at two turns. I’m proud of the race he ran. This is a tough plan [next race] to figure out. The Preakness might fit him well.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie, Impressive Edge: “It was great. He always breaks really sharp and he puts you in a good spot on the first turn. I had to key him up a little bit leaving there, but then he settled right down, and at the 3/8 pole, I really thought I had a good chance. I think his first time going long and the pressure leaning on him a little bit for that first turn kind of hit him late a little bit, and I think he got a little tired. But I really like him. I like how he rides. He lets you do what you want with him.”
Trainer Jose Pinchin, Three Rules: “He ran his race. A better horse won, but he ran his race. The track is lightning fast, so it is what it is. We have to regroup with the owners and see what they want to do.”
Jockey Joe Bravo, Talk Logistics: “I had a really nice trip, sitting comfortable. They were going a nice, honest pace. My horse is just going to need more distance. He was getting to them late. We’ve got good things ahead of us.”
Jockey Luis Saez, Three Rules: “It was perfect, man. He broke so good, and at the half-mile, I thought we had it, but when I saw [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez aboard Always Dreaming] coming, I said, ‘Uh oh. We’re in trouble.’ He still ran good.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz, Coleman Rocky: “It was good, but my horse [didn’t like] when the dirt hit him in the face, so to make his move, I had to put him all the way in the clear. When I put him in the clear, he made a good run. I think when he matures a little bit more, he’s going to be a good horse.”
Source: Gulfstream Park