HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Gourmet Dinner was a significant presence on the 3-year-old scene as the 2011 Florida Derby (G1) approached.

The Florida-bred son of Trippi was a close third in the Holy Bull (G3) behind eventual Florida Derby winner Dialed In then followed that performance with a second to Soldat in the Fountain of Youth (G2). More than four lengths in the rear was major stakes winner To Honor and Serve.

However, the stress of a hard juvenile campaign, which began in July at Calder and included a couple of wins and a second in the Florida Stallion Stakes series and a victory in the rich Delta Jackpot (G3), took its toll. Just before last year’s Florida Derby, Gourmet Dinner was forced to the sidelines with “nagging shin injuries,” according to trainer Bruce Brown, who took over the training of Gourmet Dinner last summer.

Gourmet Dinner didn’t resurface in the entries for a year. “We gave him all the time he needed,” Brown said. He returned in a Gulfstream allowance sprint Feb. 9 and finished fourth on a sloppy track behind, among others, Todd Pletcher’s outstanding sprinter Travelin Man. It was only the second time in nine starts that Gourmet Dinner had failed to hit the board.

Brown didn’t want to make excuses but he said Gourmet Dinner probably needed the race. “He’s a big, heavy horse. He breezed well but it’s easier to run him into fitness.” Moreover, Gourmet Dinner was bumped at the start and Brown doesn’t feel his colt handled the track well. “It was kind of soupy that day.”

Coincidentally, Gourmet Dinner is expected to be part of Saturday’s Florida Derby Day when he makes his next start in the Sir Shackleton, one of seven stakes on the 2012 Florida Derby card.

Brown feels the Sir Shackleton could be a step toward his colt becoming a serious player in the older horse division this season. “Absolutely,” he said. “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be.”