Brooklyn Boys, Teresa and Vinnie Viola, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds and St. Elias Stable’s Always Dreaming went from Kentucky Derby (GI) outsider to legit contender in one fell swoop on Saturday with his impressive five-length victory in the $1 million Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park. The bay son of Bodemeister was ridden to victory by trainer Todd Pletcher’s go-to jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, in the nine-furlong test and stopped the clock over the fast track in 1:47.47, slightly more than three ticks off the track record set by Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (GI) two months ago.
As expected, Three Rules sped to the lead right out of the gate with Always Dreaming allowed to patiently stalk to the outside. Despite bumping hard between horses as he made his way around the first turn, Velazquez was able to relax his mount and sit comfortably behind the pace of :23.28, :47.08 and 1:10.75.
As the frontrunner began to straighten out for the drive, Always Dreaming was nearly on even terms and within a few jumps had taken command while racing out toward the center of the track. Velazquez guided his winning mount over toward the rail as they passed the eighth pole in 1:34.94 and continued on to the wire under a deliberate, if not vigorous, ride.
At odds of more than 5-2, Always Dreaming paid $7.40, $3.80 and $2.60. State of Honor held on to second and was worth $4.80 and $2.80 at odds of 4-1. Gunnevera, who was the even-money favorite, broke poorly from the gate and immediately took a left under Javier Castellano to save ground and then bounced off the rail heading into the first turn, yet closed strongly in the stretch to claim third, 1 ½ lengths behind the runner-up, and returned $2.10. The $2 exacta was good for $39.80 and the $1 trifecta $34.90.
Impressive Edge, Three Rules, Talk Logistics, Coleman Rocky, Unbridled Holiday, Charlie the Greek and Quinientos rounded out the order of finish after Battalion Runner was scratched.
“I think the whole progression and bringing him along slowly really worked,” Pletcher said. “He was training so well, we were optimistic he had this kind of race in him. He was coming up to the race exactly like you want a horse to come into a race like this. The way he ran and the way he galloped out makes me confident he’ll have no problem getting the [1 ¼-mile Derby] distance.
“We’ve gotta have a little luck and have everything go our way for the next five weeks, but it’s a good feeling.”
Always Dreaming, who is now his sire’s first graded stakes winner, was a $350,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, with bloodstock agent Steve Young signing the sales slip. He earned $600,000 for his first graded stakes score to bring his earnings to $648,900 and his line now reads 5-3-1-1. His previous victories came in maiden and first-level allowance company. Santa Rosa Partners bred the son of the In Excess mare Above Perfection, who also produced Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick.