April 27, 2017

Kentucky Derby Report April 5: Always Dreaming most impressive, Girvin keeps winning

The first of three major weekends for Kentucky Derby 143 is in the books and Always Dreaming emerged as a potential star rolling to a five-length win in the Florida Derby (G1). Girvin shared the spotlight, confirming his superiority on the Fair Grounds’ circuit with a victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Florida Derby

Todd Pletcher has his stable firing on all cylinders as the Kentucky Derby fast approaches and Always Dreaming could be the most dangerous of a large cast. He’s a candidate for further improvement upon a dynamite performance at Gulfstream Park.

After placing in a pair of starts last summer, Always Dreaming was transferred to Pletcher and looked good destroying maiden and entry-level allowance foes in his first two appearances of 2017, winning by wide margins at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. However, he was able to control the action from the start both times, leaving plenty for the latter stages as he recorded glacial fractions on the lead, and faced different circumstances while stepping up significantly in the Florida Derby.

His trip didn’t go smoothly as he was roughed up between rivals and forced to steady briefly early on the first turn, but the dark bay colt quickly recovered and advanced to stalk the pacesetting Three Rules in second entering the backstretch.

John Velazquez bided his time as his mount edged closer rounding the far turn and after taking a peak back for Gunnevera, the Hall of Fame jockey asked for run while straightening into the stretch. Always Dreaming blew past Three Rules into the lead, reaching the eighth pole with a 2 ½-length advantage, and continued to widen the advantage while winning under wraps.

He displayed a dynamic finishing kick, hitting the wire of the 1 1/8-mile race with seemingly plenty in reserve, and his 102 BRIS Speed rating came back as one of the better numbers this year for Kentucky Derby contenders.

It’s easy for me to envision Always Dreaming having more to offer on May 6. The son of late bloomer Bodemeister, who just missed winning the 2012 Kentucky Derby after being an unraced juvenile, Always Dreaming hails from the Grade 3-winning mare Above Perfection, a daughter of In Excess, who posted Grade 1 tallies in the Met Mile, Whitney Handicap, Woodward and Suburban in 1991. The second maternal dam is by Somethingfabulous, a son of Northern Dancer.

Always Dreaming will be one to follow in the mornings at Churchill Downs as he readies for his second stakes start.

State of Honor is as game as they come, following a third in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and a second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) with a commendable runner-up effort, 1 ½ lengths better than 6-5 favorite Gunnevera in third. But after registering BRIS Speed ratings of 96-96-97 in the last three starts, State of Honor must continue to up his game to make an impact while stretching out to a difficult 1 ¼-mile distance.

Gunnevera dropped to his customary position at the tail of the field but lacked the dynamic late kick that carried him to a 5 ¾-length triumph in the Fountain of Youth (G2), rallying belatedly past horses in the latter stages to be a non-threatening third. The Antonio Sano-trained colt hasn’t received much time off since recording his first workout last spring and while the sustained runner can’t be dismissed from exotics consideration next time, it’s fair to question whether Gunnevera has already peaked this spring.

TwinSpires Louisiana Derby

After breaking from the rail and enjoying ground-saving trips in his previous two outings, a close second in a turf stakes and a two-length victory in the February 25 Risen Star (G2), Girvin drew post 8 and traveled wide on both turns in the Louisiana Derby beneath jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

It didn’t matter as the 6-5 favorite advanced from midpack to a threatening position leaving the far turn and rallied to overhaul Local Hero in upper stretch. He drew clear with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining and was never threatened posting a comfortable 1 1/4-length victory.

Girvin is 3-for-3 in dirt starts but has never raced outside the friendly confines of Fair Grounds. He didn’t run straight to the wire, drifting several paths toward the rail in deep stretch as he switched back to the wrong lead, and his time for nine furlongs (1:49.77) was 1.42 seconds slower than a 1 1/8-mile stakes race for older horses a couple of races earlier on the program.

And the Kentucky-bred colt doesn’t possess a fashionable pedigree for longer distances. By Tale of Ekati, Girvin is a half-brother to speedy Grade 3 winner Cocked and Loaded and his second maternal dam is by the Grade 1-winning sprinter yes It’s True.

Girvin tries hard for Joe Sharp but his BRIS Speed ratings won’t be among the best as he steps up to face deeper competition. He is eligible to keep improving as a lightly-raced individual, but it may be prudent to look for more after the Kentucky Derby.

Patch was making only his third start for Pletcher and stepped up to face winners for the first time in his stakes bow. After being bumped early and taking plenty of kickback while saving ground from his innermost post, he appeared to be languishing momentarily in upper stretch before kicking on well late to be nearly two lengths clear of third.

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione came away impressed with his mount’s finish, noting the Union Rags colt’s lack of experience, and Patch is still figuring things out. The Calumet Farm homebred has registered respectable BRIS Speed ratings of 101 and 98 and it will be no surprise to see those numbers rise while he continues to develop. And while he may not be good enough to win next time, Patch is a sneaky prospect for the Kentucky Derby exotics with another forward move.

Local Hero surged to a clear lead on the far turn and while he gave way readily when challenged by Girvin, he managed to determinedly save third by a nose over the late-running Hollywood Handsome. At least presently, Local Hero appears better suited to distances less than 1 1/8 miles.

Up ahead

Looking forward to a huge weekend in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series with the Blue Grass (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Wood Memorial (G2).

The Blue Grass drew seven and is top-heavy with noted contenders McCraken, Tapwrit, Practical Joke and J Boys Echo seeking to bring momentum to Churchill Downs. It will be interesting to see how the lack of pace, at least on paper, affects the late-running McCraken.

The Wood Memorial features eight including Battalion Runner, who will make his anticipated stakes bow for Pletcher. Graded winners Irish War Cry and Mo Town will be trying to rebound after flopping badly as favorites in the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star, and well-regarded Gotham runner-up Cloud Computing is looking to make a statement in his third career appearance.

The Santa Anita Derby attracted a baker’s dozen and there is a chance for a wet track in Southern California. Iliad has been installed as the 7-2 favorite on the morning line off a second in the San Felipe (G2); Bob Baffert hopes to qualify one or more from the trio of American Anthem, Reach the World and Irish Freedom; and John Shirreffs has a pair of graded winners Gormley and Royal Mo trying to bounce back from unplaced efforts.

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. MCCRAKEN: Unbeaten late runner makes final prep in Blue Grass
  2. ALWAYS DREAMING: Established himself as major player romping in Florida Derby
  3. TAPWRIT: Displayed terrific turn of foot winning Tampa Bay Derby, steps up in Blue Grass
  4. GUNNEVERA: Lost some luster with Florida Derby third, hopes to uncork late kick on Derby Day
  5. J BOYS ECHO: Tries to back up smashing Gotham win in Blue Grass
  6. GIRVIN: Louisiana Derby winner not flashy but 3-for-3 on dirt for Sharp
  7. BATTALION RUNNER: Well-regarded Pletcher trainee makes stakes debut in Wood
  8. PRACTICAL JOKE: Successful juvenile is in good shape with 34 points, Blue Grass reveals where he fits
  9. ILIAD: Decent second trying two turns in San Felipe, looks to move forward in Santa Anita Derby
  10. CLASSIC EMPIRE: 2-year-old champ appears to be thriving since leaving Palm Meadows, Arkansas Derby next
  11. ONE LINER: Southwest winner headed back to Oaklawn for Arkansas Derby
  12. IRISH WAR CRY: Wood Memorial offers chance for redemption after Fountain of Youth clunker
  13. PATCH: Louisiana Derby runner-up a promising prospect for Pletcher
  14. CLOUD COMPUTING: Eligible to run well in Wood but unraced juvenile probably too inexperienced
  15. REACH THE WORLD: Baffert trainee facing litmus test in Santa Anita Derby
  16. BATTLE OF MIDWAY: Recent allowance scorer gets one chance to qualify in Santa Anita Derby
  17. STATE OF HONOR: Hard-trying colt exits runner-up efforts in Florida & Tampa Bay Derby
  18. HENCE: Would like to see another prep but Sunland Derby upsetter training up to race
  19. MALAGACY: Kudos for Rebel win but little faith in his chances at longer distances
  20. THUNDER SNOW: Stamped his ticket in UAE Derby but overseas shippers tend to perform poorly

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