04/04/2017 11:47AM

Road to the Derby: Florida Derby analysis

Barbara D. Livingston
Always Dreaming and jockey John Velazquez win the Florida Derby by five lengths.

Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park, April 1, 2017
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Always Dreaming, by Bodemeister
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velazquez
Owner: Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, et al
Beyer Speed Figure: 97

ALWAYS DREAMING tipped his ability with a powerful victory against maidens at Tampa Bay Downs in January and, after an intermediate stop in a Gulfstream allowance on Fountain of Youth Day, continued his ascent with this dominating victory, his third straight, all at age 3 and all since moving to Pletcher’s barn. Always Dreaming has contending speed and finishes off his races well, attributes that should serve him well at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Always Dreaming showed good speed leaving the gate, had to check going into the first turn when THREE RULES crossed in front of him, then took up a stalking position just behind and outside of Three Rules. He remained in that spot down the backstretch and into the far turn, attacked Three Rules a quarter-mile out, with Velazquez looking about for threats, then bounded away. He was much the best.

STATE OF HONOR, who finished second, broke alertly from the rail but was purposely restrained into the first turn, and he seemed to resent that, as he tossed his head about. He came to hand turning into the backstretch and followed Three Rules, continued to save ground around the far turn, had to wait for an opening a quarter-mile out, got through inside and, while no match for the winner, finished well. This was probably his best race yet, but I’m still skeptical of his ability to get 1 1/4 miles, especially if he won’t settle in the opening furlongs.

GUNNEVERA, who was third, started from the outside post in the field of 10 but was immediately angled toward the rail to save ground while well back around the first turn. He started to pick up the back markers while three paths wide on the far turn, then finished well enough in a race where four of the first five spots went to horses who were forwardly placed in the early going.

IMPRESSIVE EDGE, who was fourth, broke well and took up a stalking position in fourth, three paths wide, around the first turn. He went into the far turn on even terms with State of Honor, ranged up three paths wide, came under an aggressive ride a quarter-mile out, but could not make any impact late. This was his first try around two turns after five sprints.

Three Rules, who was fifth, showed his usual good early speed and crossed over from his outside post to tighten things up on Always Dreaming while moving to the lead. He maintained a clear lead into and then down the backstretch, drifted slightly off the rail near the quarter pole when challenged by Always Dreaming, could not go with the winner, but battled hard before yielding late over a distance that seems beyond his range against top-level competition.

The rest were never any factor.

TALK LOGISTICS, who was sixth, saved ground in seventh around the first turn while racing all alone, was angled off the rail down the backstretch and advanced in the middle of the track, went into the far turn in the 3 path, but came under heavy pressure midway on the turn and could not sustain his bid.

COLEMAN ROCKY, who was seventh, raced near the rear of the pack in the 2 to 3 path around the first turn, was three wide on the far turn and five wide into the lane, but was always well back.

UNBRIDLED HOLIDAY, who was eighth, broke a half-step slow, was at the back of the pack outside Gunnevera around the first turn, fell back to last down the backstretch, saved ground on the far turn, but was never in the hunt.

CHARLIE THE GREEK, who was ninth, raced in midpack while saving ground around the first turn, began to be badly outrun heading into the far turn, and faded.

QUINIENTOS, who finished last of 10, raced in the 2 path while just outside Charlie the Greek around the first turn, began to tire heading into the far turn, drifted to the 3 path entering the lane and, like many of the trailers in this race, never was a factor.