Always Dreaming tracked the pace to the top of the stretch and blew away the competition in the lane, winning the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) by five easy lengths. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt established himself a serious Kentucky Derby contender, picking up 100-points while making his stakes debut in the qualifying race, and provided Hall of Fame jockey with a record fourth Florida Derby win.
Owned by Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables et al, Always Dreaming completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.47.
After placing in a pair of juvenile starts for Dominick Schettino, the dark bay son of Bodemeister was transferred to Pletcher. He returned from a five-month layoff with an 11-length maiden tally in his two-turn bow at Tampa Bay Downs on January 25 and followed with a four-length entry-level allowance victory going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream on March 4.
“I think the whole program really helped today,” Pletcher sad. “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 thankfully 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.”
Pletcher is preparing an arsenal for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. He’s been represented by stakes winners Malagacy, One Liner and Tapwrit this year, and Patch finished second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Master Plan third in the UAE Derby (G2). The leading conditioner is also readying Battalion Runner for his stakes debut in the coming weeks.
Three Rules sped forward from his outside post to set the pace on a short lead, establishing splits in :23.28, :47.08 and 1:10.75. Always Dreaming broke alertly but was forced to steady slightly on the first turn, advancing to be second entering the backstretch.
While under a snug hold, Always Dreaming edged closer rounding the far turn and Velazquez took a peak back for even-money favorite Gunnevera approaching the stretch. He gave his mount the cue while straightening for home and Always Dreaming quickly accelerated clear, displaying a dynamite turn of foot to put the race away in the matter of a few strides.
Off as the 5-2 second choice, Always Dream won under wraps late. State of Honor, who was removing blinkers off a runner-up in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), was rank during the early stages while pinned along the inside after breaking from the innermost post before finally settling on the backstretch, and he finished up nicely for second at 4-1, 1 ½ lengths better than Gunnevera in third.
A 5 ¾-length winner of the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2), Gunnevera left himself too much to do at the tail of the field after breaking from the far outside post in the 10-horse field. He closed belatedly past rivals in the latter stages, winding up a half-length better than Impressive Edge in fourth.
“(Javier) Castellano told me the post position was a little problem, but the horse wasn’t comfortable in the beginning,” trainer Antonio Sano said of Gunnevera. “He finished strong but the horses in the front weren’t stopping.”
Bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners, Always Dreaming has now earned $647,900 from a 5-3-1-1 record. The $350,000 Keeneland September sales graduate is out of Grade 3-winning In Excess mare Always Dreaming, dam of Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick, who has produced Grade 3-placed stakes winner Union Jackson.