Pletcher's Choice Works to Perfection
By Dick Downey
Todd Pletcher had two prospects for the Florida Derby. He entered both with the intent to run Always Dreaming and save Battalion Runner for another day if all went well.
Always Dreaming made Pletcher look good with a resounding, five-length win and stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with 100 points and $589,000 of the $1 million purse.
The race began predictably, with Three Rules going to the lead. He set fractions of 23.38, 47.08 and 1:10.75 as State of Honor, then Always Dreaming, pursued him in second a length or two back. Always Dreaming was briefly steadied in the first turn. Meanwhile, post-time even-money favorite Gunnevera departed the far outside post and headed toward the rail to prepare for a late run.
Rounding the second turn, Always Dreaming and John Velazquez began to edge up the outside of Three Rules and obtained a narrow lead. At the furlong marker they had opened up by 2 1/2 lengths. Three Rules was still second, but State of Honor, who appeared to be retreating into the turn, rallied again and soon got past Three Rules as well to get the place. Gunnevera was 15 lengths behind after the first quarter-mile and rallied to finish third, a length-and-a-half behind State of Honor. Impressive Edge was fourth or third at every call and finished fourth, beaten seven lengths and a nose in front of Three Rules in fifth.
The final time was 1:47.47 for the nine-furlong Florida Derby. Always Dreaming was the 5-2 second choice and paid $7.40, $3.80 and $2.60 to win, place and show.
After Talk Logistics in sixth, the remaining order of finish was comprised of four horses that were each over 100-1: Coleman Rocky, Unbridled Holiday, Charlie the Greek and Quinientos. And yes, Battalion runner was scratched.
With the win, Todd Pletcher continued his march to a very busy Kentucky Derby week. Among his other prospects on the Derby Trail, Patch finished second in the Louisiana Derby about 30 minutes before the Florida Derby.
State of Honor was awarded 50 Kentucky Derby points and now has 62. Local Hero got 20 new points and has 30, which is inside the top 20 on the Derby leaderboard with four major prep races left. Impressive Edge earned his first 10 points.
Always Dreaming came into the Florida Derby off a nine-furlong allowance win at the track. Connections could have gone in the Fountain of Youth that day but decided to give Always Dreaming more time before facing tough competition. The Florida Derby was his stakes debut.
The winning son of Bodemeister is out of the In Excess (IRE) mare Above Perfection and was bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners. He was purchased for $350,000 at the Keeneland September 2015 sale and is owned by Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Viola Racing Stables, St. Elias Stables LLC, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds, et al.
Todd Pletcher, winning trainer: “I think the whole program really helped today. We brought him along gradually, opted for the allowance race on Fountain of Youth day and I think all that paid off. The horse has been training exceptionally well, and we were confident he was going to run as well as he’s capable of, and thank fully he did. 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. With two mile and an eighth wins and the way he galloped out today, I’m confident he’ll get the trip. Like always, you want them to stay healthy and you have to have some good luck for the next five weeks.”
John Velazquez: "I thought, if he's coming, he's going to have to run really hard to catch us."
Anthony Bonomo (Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Co-owner: “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.”
Julien Leparoux, on board State of Honor: “I had a really good trip. 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.”
Mark Casse, trainer of 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 Antonio Sano (Gunnevera, third): “Castellano told me the post position was a little problem, but the horse wasn’t comfortable in the beginning. 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.”
Javier Castellano, on board Gunnevera: “I had a good trip. I saved all the ground in the first turn and the way he ended up, I didn’t have it today. I was riding, riding all the way in the race. 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. I saved all the ground. I did the right thing for the horse, and I tried to develop the horse. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it today.”
Dale Romans, trainer of Impressive Edge: “Still proud of him. He ran a big race. First time two turns. I’m proud of the race he ran. This is a tough plan to figure out. The Preakness might fit him well.”
Corey Lanerie, on board Impressive Edge, 4th: “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 three-eighths 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.”
Jose Pinchin, trainer of 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.”
Luis Saez, on board Three Rules: “It was perfect, man. He broke so good, and at the half-mile I thought we had it, but when I saw Johnny [Velazquez aboard Always Dreaming] coming I said, ‘Uh oh. We’re in trouble.’ He still ran good.”
Joe Bravo, on board 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.”
Jose Ortiz, on board 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.”