Since the turn of the century, winners of the Florida Derby (GI) have gone on to win six Triple Crown races — five Kentucky Derby winners and a Belmont Winner. It has also served as an important stallion-making race, producing the likes of Empire Maker, Harlan’s Holiday, Scat Daddy and Quality Road.
On a Derby Trail muddied with injuries, antics, and disappointments, Peacock Racing Stables LLC’s Gunnevera has been the face of consistency this year. As talented Gunnevera was at two when he won the Saratoga Special Stakes (GII) and the Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII), the Antonio Sano-trained son of Dialed In has stepped up his game this year.
He opened the season with a second to Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII), defeating last year’s champion juvenile Classic Empire. Since that effort, Classic Empire has refused to work several times, and Irish War Cry was a no-show in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII), but Gunnevera kept on going, powering to a 5 ¾ length victory in the Fountain of Youth, defeating multiple Grade I winner Practical Joke.
While the Florida Derby will present many familiar foes, Gunnevera will have to deal with two promising new shooters in Impressive Edge and Always Dreaming.
Owned by Brooklyn Boyz Stables and Teresa Viola Racing Stables et al., Always Dreaming is trained by Todd Pletcher. After finishing second and third in two sprints at age two, the son of Bodemeister was then transferred to Pletcher’s barn from former trainer Dominick Schettino. In his first start for Pletcher, Always Dreaming blitzed his rivals in a two-turn maiden affair at Tampa Bay, winning by 11 ¼ lengths. He followed that effort up with a four-length win going the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Florida Derby in an allowance race on the Fountain of Youth undercard. While he has already answered the distance question, the colt will have to prove that he can step up against top-class rivals.
Pletcher has also entered Battalion Runner in the race, but he will only run if something unforeseen causes Always Dreaming to have to scratch between now and race day.
Impressive Edge was a $400,000 two-year-old purchase for N and K Racing, but he disappointed in his first two starts — both off-the-board finishes. It was then that he was switched to Dale Romans’ barn from that of Steve Asmussen. The move looked good when the colt powered to a 4 ¾ length maiden win in his first start for Romans, followed by a troubled fourth in the Swale Stakes (GII), and an 8-length allowance victory in his most recent start.
The son of Harlan’s Holiday has never been around two turns and his trainer is skeptical of his ability to handle the distance, but there’s never a better time to test the waters than the final round of Derby preps.
For anyone wondering if the favorite Gunnevera will get much pace to run at, that question will likely be answered by State of Honor and Three Rules.
Owned by Conrad Farms and trained by Mark Casse, State of Honor was second and third in the two Tampa Bay Downs Derby preps this season. In both of those races, the colt bore blinkers, which are coming off in this race in hopes of getting the speedy son of To Honor and Serve to relax a little more early.
ShadeTree Thoroughbreds Inc., Tom Fitzgerald, and Geoff Roy’s Three Rules was a dominant force on the Florida-bred circuit at two, but has not been able to find the winner’s circle in open company. After a tiring third in the Fountain of Youth, trainer Jose Pinchin indicated that while the colt is running in the Florida Derby, he is likely to skip the Kentucky Derby (GI) and await the Preakness Stakes (GI).
Rounding out the field is the graded stakes placed Talk Logistics, as well as maiden winners Charlie the Greek, Quinientos, Coleman Rocky and Unbridled Holiday.
Carded as the 14th and final race on the program, approximate post time for the $1 million Florida Derby is 6:40 pm ET.