HRI Consensus: Always Dreaming’s Florida Derby Vaults Him to Top
All the pre-Florida Derby buzz had to do with how Always Dreaming was doing. “Training exceptionally well.” was the way Todd Pletcher put it, every time anyone asked. When Pletcher uses the word “exceptional,” horseplayers need to take note. One majority owner, Anthony Bonomo, put it another way. “All day you’re nervous leading up to the race,” Bonomo said. “Dreaming is what you have to do every day in this business. “You’re always dreaming, my wife would say. [Today] was magical.” His buddy from Kings County, the owner, Vincent Viola, who also owns a major share of Battalion Runner, scheduled to be one of the favorites for Saturday’s Wood Memorial, had still another take. “The best thing is sitting next to a guy I grew up with in Brooklyn. We all knew the horse would run well today but that’s not enough. If he didn’t win, it would have been an absolute failure.” And if he didn’t win his next race, one that Pletcher described earlier as the hardest race in the world to win, the feature race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of every May? Viola never flinched: “An absolute failure.”
With the exception of Viola’s Florida Panthers disappointing season, he’s been making good decisions. One was heeding the advice of bloodstock agent Steve Young, who recommended the $350,000 yearling purchase.
The other was saying no when offered a cabinet position by the present administration in Washington D.C. Indeed, he’s come a long way from the time when he and Bonomo saw horses for the first time pulling milk wagons in Brooklyn.
Now it’s on to the next prep for the boys and, if successful there, it will be time for slouching towards Louisville, where their trainer could have as many as three more runners in the Churchill starting gate.
Pletcher's attention to detail
makes all the difference
Johnny has good reason to smile
With three major 100-point qualifying preps remaining, next week’s Blue Grass and Wood and the following week’s Arkansas Derby, Pletcher already has five horses among the top 18 Derby points-earners: To wit:
Tapwrit is three slots behind Always Dreaming in sixth; Malagacy is eighth; Patch, the Louisiana Derby runnerup, is 11th and Master Plan, third in the UAE Derby, checks in at #18 with 20 points, which might not be good enough to make the cut.
Meanwhile, Girvin keeps on making trainer Joe Sharp look good, and vice versa. His Louisiana Derby was more workmanlike (1:49.77) than brilliant--compared to Always Dreaming’s outstanding 1:47.47, even over yesterday’s lightning fast Gulfstream strip.
Qualitatively, both races featured excellent performances from a handful of potential Derby runners. The first three finishers in Hallandale all raced very well.
Runnerup State Of Honor, still too keen early despite the removal of blinkers, settled a bit better on the backside and came home well, albeit no match for Always Dreaming. For Florida Derby favorite Gunnevera, all that was lost was a horse race.
Given impossible race dynamics, Gunnevera rallied wide on the final turn, despite constant urging throughout from Javier Castellano to get closer, and he still finished boldly, too late down the center of the track.
Larry Kelly, Gunnevera's traveling companion,
helps tack up Florida Derby favorite
Castellano leans left and heads to the rail
After being guided deftly to the fence from post 10 before reaching the first turn, instead of saving ground thereafter, he was brought out into the 5-path down the backstretch, continued wide while far back at the turn, his momentum carrying him six wide at headstretch.
But he laid his body down inside the furlong pole and narrowly beat Impressive Edge, who raced extremely well, forcing the pace outside the winner in a very promising two-turn debut for Dale Romans who, immediately after, said the Preakness might be a good fit.
As for Pletcher’s Patch, despite his inexperience coming off a maiden win around one turn at Gulfstream, rallied very well late to secure the place and galloped out on even terms with the winning Girvin in only his third lifetime start.
With five weeks until Derby, this is how the HRI staff ranks their Top Five choices:
McCraken--Undefeated and the horses he beat at Tampa, Tapwrit and State of Honor, have run back big.
Tapwrit--One of those who came out of McCraken's race and looked like he closed the gap between himself and No. 1 in his next start.
Always Dreaming--Florida Derby was as authoritative as anyone would want and he galloped out as if 1 1/4 miles will be no problem.
Gunnevera--Florida Derby disappointment wasn't entirely unpredictable. His style could get him into trouble again in huge Derby field.
Thunder Snow--Watched his UAE Derby back numerous times. Still impressed by his gameness
Always Dreaming -- Pletcher-profiled exploder will take some beating.
Girvin -- All previous qualifying Derby winners won 100 point preps.
McCraken -- Undefeated winner of minor preps goes next in Blue Grass.
Tapwrit – 50-point winner was previously defeated by McCraken.
Classic Empire – Juvenile Champion awaits major prep in Arkansas.
Gunnevera- Fast-finish Florida Derby third has him continuing on the right path to Kentucky.
Almost Dreaming- The most impressive prep performance we’ve seen to date (sidelined Mastery notwithstanding).
Tapwrit- Energizer racehorse just keeps rolling and showed great turn of foot in Tampa win.
McCraken- Haven’t lost faith, but he needs to run big in the Blue Grass.
Girvin- Doesn’t take your breath away but hasn’t had to; keeps winning as he learns.
HRI CONSENSUS: KENTUCKY DERBY HI-5
1. ALWAYS DREAMING (14)
2. TAPWRIT (13)
3. (tie) MCCRAKEN (9)
3. (tie) GIRVIN (9)
5. GUNNEVERA (8)
Also Eligibles: Classic Empire, One Liner, Thunder Snow
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 2, 2017
Photos by Toni Pricci
Written by John Pricci - Comments (31)