Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from Saturday’s 66th running of the $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby, a key Gulfstream Park prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby:
Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez won the Florida Derby for the fourth time as Always Dreaming romped to a five-length victory, allowing each to become the all-time leader in his respective category. Pletcher had been tied with John Veitch and Nick Zito; Velazquez had been knotted with Jerry Bailey, Bill Hartack, Edgar Prado, Bill Shoemaker and Mike Smith. While the Florida Derby has produced 23 Kentucky Derby champions, Pletcher and Velazquez have so far taken different paths to their lone successes in the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
Room to Grow for Always Dreaming
Velazquez was determined to give Always Dreaming an education on how to sit off the lead, but admitted he succeeded only to a degree. He noted that the colt, in only his third start this season and fifth lifetime, was somewhat difficult entering the first turn before settling down through the backstretch and then turning on the afterburners to complete the mile and an eighth in 1:47.47, the fastest clocking since Alydar’s 1:47 in 1978. Pletcher, rarely one to express excitement, said of the upside for Always Dreaming: “This horse has had an exceptional winter and early spring. If he can have another five weeks like he had the last four weeks, then we’d be confident that we’re bringing a very talented horse into the most difficult race in the world to win.”
Abandon Gunnevera at Your Own Risk
As disappointed as Gunnevera’s many fans were after he finished third, he was guilty with an explanation. His cause was undoubtedly hurt when he drew farthest outside in what wound up as a field of 10, leading jockey Javier Castellano to immediately angle him toward the rail to save as much ground as possible. To make matters worse, the lightning-fast surface hardly played to his closing style. As Castellano surmised, “Maybe he was affected by the track. The track was speed.”
Potential Preakness Starters Emerge
Do not be surprised if Impressive Edge and Three Rules land in the Preakness starting gate after coming in fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Florida Derby. Trainer Dale Romans believes he has something to build on after Impressive Edge gave a creditable effort in his first attempt at racing two turns. Three Rules’ trainer Jose Pinchin had expressed interest in running his charge in the Preakness even before the Florida Derby, saying, “It gives us more time. We’d have a fresher horse.”
Much in a Name
Anthony Bonomo, part of the group that owns Always Dreaming, credited his wife, Mary Ellen, with naming the Bodemeister colt. “That’s what you have to do every day, especially in this business,” said Anthony. He was filled with emotion as recalled his roots in Brooklyn, N.Y., and how far he has come. “A kid from Brooklyn whose real experience with horses was watching them pull fruit carts now gets to go to Kentucky and one of the biggest races with people you love. That’s what it’s really about,” he said.