After recording a 5 ¾-length victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Gunnevera is the horse to beat in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Eleven horses were entered for the Kentucky Derby qualifier, which awards points on a 100-40-20-10, but only 10 are expected to start.
Trainer Todd Pletcher entered Always Dreaming and Battalion Runner, with John Velazquez named to ride both well-regarded allowance winners, but Battalion Runner is strictly an insurance policy and will be pointed toward another prep race.
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby has produced four Kentucky Derby winners in the last 11 years, including 2016 victor Nyquist, and Gunnevera will be one of the top betting choices at Churchill Downs with another strong showing. The late-running specialist has been installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite and will have to overcome the far outside post with regular rider Javier Castellano.
From the first crop of 2011 Florida Derby hero Dialed In, the Antonio Sano-trained colt posted last-to-first victories in the Saratoga Special (G2) and Delta Jackpot (G3) at age 2 and the chestnut has continued to advance this season. Gunnevera overcame trouble to finish a rallying second when opening 2017 in the February 4 Holy Bull (G2) and really upped his game in the March 4 Fountain of Youth, registering a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating for the dominant performance.
Always Dreaming is the likely second choice in his anticipated stakes debut. Listed at 4-1, the Bodemeister colt rolled to an 11-length maiden win when returning from a five-month layoff at Tampa Bay Downs on January 25. He came back six weeks later to easily capture a 1 1/8-mile, entry-level allowance on the Fountain of Youth undercard, scoring by four lengths in front-running fashion. The dark bay colt should be forwardly-placed again.
State of Honor and Three Rules come next on the morning line at 8-1. State of Honor exits a couple of respectable performances at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing third in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and trainer Mark Casse will remove blinkers on the speedy colt, who figures to show speed from his innermost post with Julien Leparoux. Fountain of Youth third-placer Three Rules is another expected pace player. A five-time winner at Gulfstream, the Jose Pinchin trainee set the pace in the Fountain of Youth and jockey Luis Saez will probably send from an outside post Saturday.
Other contestants include Impressive Edge, who will try two turns following an eight-length allowance romp over the track at 7-furlongs; and Talk Logistics, the fourth-place finisher in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth.
A quartet of longshots -- Charlie the Greek, Coleman Rocky, Unbridled Holiday and Quinentos – complete the field.
(Adam Coglianese Photo)