Always Dreaming absolutely brilliant in the Florida Derby. Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 2nd 2017

Just when you think that Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has pulled his last surprise Derby contender seemingly out of nowhere from his barn, he does it once again in the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming. Let’s just say, a lot of respected handicappers didn’t think this 3-year-old son of Bodemeister was a serious threat to upset Gunnevera. But as we have seen several times the past six weeks, the race favorite has gotten beat by a Todd Pletcher-trained colt: One Liner in the Southwest Stakes, Malagacy in the Rebel Stakes and now Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby (shown below).

What was Always Dreaming’s winning time? 1:47.47–the 6th fastest Florida Derby time since it was inaugurated in 1952. Ponder that time for a minute: 1:47.47. That’s the fastest 9 furlong final prep race time of any of the past eighteen Kentucky Derby winners. The fastest since Real Quiet’s 2nd place finish to Indian Charlie in the 1998 Santa Anita Derby. Faster than two prominent Florida Derby winners who went on to win the Kentucky Derby: Spectacular Bid (1979) – 1:48.80 and Big Brown (2008) – 1:48.16.

Surprisingly, Always Dreaming only received a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for this performance. I expect this might be adjusted upward later. Always Dreaming’s TimeformUS speed rating for the Florida Derby was 123, which is tied for the 4th best rating in this season’s Derby prep races behind Mastery’s 127 in the San Felipe Stakes, Classic Empire’s 125 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and One Liner’s 124 in the Southwest Stakes. Not This Time had a 123 rating for his 2nd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Source)

This Kentucky Derby prep season has been a wild one with injuries taking two early Derby favorites off the trail (Not This Time and Mastery) and inconsistency from horses like Classic Empire, Irish War Cry, Royal Mo, Gunnevera and El Areeb. So it seems prime for a horse to come out of nowhere and win the Kentucky Derby this year. Always Dreaming appears best to fit that description to date. However, we still have four big Derby prep races left (Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and the Arkansas Derby). So expect the unexpected and watch how this all plays out.

Below are my Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby contenders and Trainer Todd Pletcher has four out of the top six. He’s been living right as they say.

Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming  I have tentatively elevated Always Dreaming to #1 in my rankings due to the simple fact that, to date, he is the fastest horse that is guaranteed a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. His final 3 furlong fraction time was 36.6–an average speed of 36.9 mph. He coasted home in the last 1/2 furlong, winning by 5 lengths. So it appears that he had much more left in the tank and will be able to handle one more furlong just fine. Next Start:  The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time:  N/A (estimated 1:41.2 from his Florida Derby performance)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  97 – 2017 Florida Derby

2) One Liner – The undefeated son of Into Mischief. His win in the Southwest Stakes earned him a triple digit 102 Beyer Speed Figure, tied for 2nd best of this class in their 3 year-old campaign. I wrote a Kentucky Derby profile on him for US Racing that you can read by clicking HERE. There are questions regarding how he will take to added distance. And he will need a second place finish in his next start to be assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Next Start: The  Arkansas Derby on April 15th.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:41.852017 Southwest Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

3) Classic Empire – The 2-year-old Eclipse champion disappointed in the Holy Bull Stakes with a third place finish. Later it was found that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. He is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and wrote about him back in July (SEE).  Classic Empire has had issues in workouts with refusing to run at his Palm Meadows training center. So he was moved to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, Florida and has produced two straight bullet works: 1:01.40 in 5F on March 22nd and 59.30 in 5F on March 28th. Judging from his previous workout history, these times are as good if not better than what he produced before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. Next Start: The  Arkansas Derby on April 15th. 

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

4) McCraken – The son of Ghostzapper is undefeated in 4 starts. One of his big wins was in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So there are no concerns of how he will take to the track surface at Churchill Downs. Latest report from Ian Wilkes is that he has filled out and getting stronger, uh oh! Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire:  Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.45 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

5) Malagacy – Another undefeated Pletcher colt in three starts. There were questions regarding how he would take to added distance but Todd Pletcher believed from training that he would handle the step up in distance well and he proved him right by winning the Rebel Stakes. See my Kentucky Derby profile of Malagacy on US Racing’s website by clicking HERENext Start: The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 15th.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Shackleford (Finished 4th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Javier Castellano 
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.00 – 2017 Rebel Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – Gulfstream Park 2/12/17

6) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit (Finished 9th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Practical Joke, Iliad and Battalion Runner

Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Always Dreaming (100), Thundersnow (100), Gunnevera (84), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54),  J Boys Echo (53), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), Patch (40), Practical Joke (34), Untrapped (34) and Classic Empire (32). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

Two horses who are on the bubble: Local Hero (30) and Gormley (25).  25 or more Derby points got a horse into the starting field all other years except last year since the creation of the points system.

On the Docket….

Previews of the three big prep races this coming Saturday (Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby.

My next contribution to the Cyberworld is going to be a food, wine and cooking blog. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and my travels to Italy left me with a desire to recreate the same awesome dishes I had there but can’t get here in the US in Italian restaurants. Stay tuned!


2017 Louisiana and Florida Derby Previews

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 29th 2017 – Updated April 1st 2017 12:30 PM EST

Another huge weekend on the Derby trail is coming up this Saturday with the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby. Both races offer 170 Kentucky Derby points each.  Points are awarded as follows: 1st=100 points; 2nd=40 points; 3rd=20 points; 4th=10 points. Race favorites Gunnevera (64) and Girvin (50) have both clinched a spot in the 2017 Kentucky Derby field.  

Kentucky Derby Bubble Watch

The horses below are on the bubble. I have put the finish they will need this Saturday in order in order to get into the Kentucky Derby field.

Needs a 3rd place finish or better: State of Honor (22), Guest Suite (15)

Needs a 2nd place finish or better:  Three Rules (10), Local Hero (10), Talk Logistics (6) and any other horse in the Louisiana and Florida Derby fields that are not named above as they have scored zero Derby points.

Sub 1:50 Time

What you are really looking for in these two races is a winning time of less than 1:50 as seven out of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners posted a sub 1:50 in their final 9 furlong prep race. Nine out of ten had a sub 1:51 time.

Below are the starting fields and odds.

The Louisiana Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #11 at Fair Grounds – Post-Time: 5:21 PM CST. Televised by TVG

1. Patch – Gaffliaone/Pletcher – 9/2 
2. Hollywood Handsome  – Torres/Stewart -12/1
3. Local Hero  – Geroux/Asmussen – 7/2 
4. Senior Investment  – Hill/McPeek – 12/1 
5. Monaco – Maragh/Pletcher – 12/1 
6. Guest Suite – Albarado/Howard – 4/1 
7. Sorry Erik – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 30/1 
8. Girvin – Hernandez Jr/Sharp – 8/5
9. Hotfoot – Stevens/Van Berg – 30/1

Race Commentary: Girvin was the surprise winner of the Risen Star Stakes. I don’t think he is a fluke as he demonstrated excellent closing speed in that race. I like him again in this race. However, as we have seen thus far on the Derby trail, inconsistency has reigned supreme. Todd Pletcher’s has entered Patch and Monaco in the field. Overall, I feel that Patch is his best horse in this field. Pletcher has been a very hot trainer of late on the Derby trail. Patch’s sire Union Rags who won the 2012 Fountain of Youth Stakes and finished 3rd in the Florida Derby as a 3-year-old. I am not sure how good Patch is. However, I had the same questions about One Liner and Malagacy that were answered in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes.

My Prediction: 1) Girvin, 2) Patch, 3) Guest Suite, 4) Local Hero. However, I would probably key Girvin to win over Patch, Guest Suite, Local Hero and Senior Investment in a Superfecta bet. That is 8 over 1, 3, 4, 6 over 1, 3, 4, 6 over 1, 3, 4, 6.  A 50 cent bet of this type would cost $12.

The Florida Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #14 at Gulfstream Park – Post-Time: 5:40 PM CST. Televised by TVG

1. State of Honor – Leparoux/Casse – 8/1  
2. Talk Logistics  – Bravo/Plesa – 30/1  
3. Charlie The Greek –  Reyes/Yanakov – 50/1 
4. Always Dreaming – Velazquez/Pletcher – 4/1 
5. Quinientos – Montalvo/Sanchez – 50/1
6. Coleman Rocky – Ortiz/Delgado – 30/1
7. Unbridled Holiday – Juarez/Biancone – 30/1 
8. Impressive Edge – Lanerie/Romans – 12/1 
9. Battalion Runner – Velazquez/Pletcher – 3/1  SCRATCHED
10. Three Rules – Saez/Pinchin – 8/1
11. Gunnevera – Castellano/Sano – 9/5

Race Commentary: Gunnevera is the most talented colt in this disappointing field. However, he will have to overcome the far outside post. Trainer Todd Pletcher will scratch either Always Dreaming or Battalion Runner and run one of them in another Derby prep race. The rumor mill says Battalion Runner was entered as a backup to Always Dreaming. However, I like Battalion Runner’s chances of winning better than Always Dreaming.

My Prediction:  With Battalion Runner getting scratched, I would key Gunnevera to win over State of Honor, Three Rules, Always Dreaming and Talk Logistics. That is #11 over, 1, 2, 4 and 10. A 50 cent bet of this type would cost $12. 

On the docket…

My next blog will include updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings which I will post by Monday evening.