Gunnevera Draws Post 11 in Florida Derby

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11:29 am EDT

Three Rules Next Door, Always Dreaming in Post 4

By Dick Downey

The 66th Florida Derby is proven, serious stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and on Saturday a field of 11 led by Gunnevera will try to take the next step to the first Saturday in May in Louisville.

Trained by Antonio Sano and ridden by Javier Castellano, both natives of Venezuela, Gunnevera will try to duplicate his powerful winning move in the Fountain of Youth Stakes from the far outside post 11. In the March 4 Fountain of Youth, Gunnevera closed on the early speed from last place of 10 to win by 5 3/4 lengths and become a millionaire. Gunnevera was second in the Holy Bull in early February after losing some momentum from a bump late in the race. The son of Dialed In was purchased for only $16,000 at the Keeneland September 2015 Yearling Sale by Peacock Racing Stables LLC, made up of Solomon Del-Valle and Guillermo Guerra.

Gunnevera is the morning line favorite at 9-5.

Practical Joke was second in the Fountain of Youth but will bypass the Florida Derby in favor of the Toyota Bliue Grass Stakes. Finishing just a half-length behind him was pacesetter Three Rules, trained by Jose Pinchin. He drew post 10. The Florida-bred is only the fourth horse to emerge from the Florida Sire Stakes series for 2-year-olds undefeated after sweeping the Dr. Fager, the Affirmed and the In Reality Stakes last year. Only Smile (1984), Seacliff (1995) and Sir Oscar (2003) had done it before. On Saturday he makes his third start of the year after finishing second in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes and third in the Fountain of Youth.

Talk Logistics will make his fourth stakes start of the year in the Florida Derby. The Eddie Plesa, Jr. trainee finished a closing third in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes and finished fourth in the Holy Bull after being part of the early pace. In the Fountain of Youth, Talk Logistics again finished fourth. He was 6 3/4 lengths behind after six furlongs and 14 1/4 lengths back at the finish.

State of Honor, trained by Mark Casse, is one of those horses that's always around but has trouble winning. In January he set the pace in the Mucho Macho Man and finished second. In the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa, he again set the pace only to finish a close third to McCraken. And in the Tampa Bay Derby he once again took the early lead only to finish second to the closing Tapwrit. Casse wants State of Honor to relax and sit off the lead in the Florida Derby.

Always Dreaming and Battalion Runner were both entered by Todd Pletcher, with only the former expected to run. The latter, set at 3-1, is owned by St. Elias Stable, which also owns part of Always Dreaming. He's being pointed to either the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby after some talk of shipping him west for the Santa Anita Derby. Battalion Runner is expected to be scratched from the Florida Derby.

Always Dreaming, set at 4-1 on the morning line, exits a March 4 allowance race victory at Gulfstream Park at the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby distance. Pletcher later termed the win "pretty easy," with Always Dreaming setting the pace with splits of  25.52, 51.65, 1:16.82 and a mile 1:41.17. He crossed the finish line in 1:53.44 under John Velazquez. Always Dreaming broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 25 in a one mile 40 yarder timed in 1:40.54. That was his third career start. Always Dreaming drew post 4.

Impressive Edge and Unbridled Holiday come into the race for Dale Romans and Patrick Biancone. Impressive Edge has won two of three at the track since being transferred to the Romans barn. He makes his two-turn debut in the Florida Derby. Unbridled Holiday finished third to Always Dreaming on March 4 in that nine-furlong allowance race, beaten four lengths.

Coleman Rocky is trained by Gustavo Delgado and was last seen finishing third by less than a length to Bronson in a Jan. 29 allowance optional claiming race going 1 1/16 mile at the track.

Charlie the Greek and Quinientos, neither of whom was anticipated to enter, round out the field.

The Florida Derby carries a $1 million purse and 170 Kentucky Derby points with 100 to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth.


Jockey John Velazquez (Always Dreaming, Post 4, 4-1): “Post positions for both of them are actually pretty good, whichever runs. The four is very good for Always Dreaming, and Battalion Runner is quick enough that he’s going to be one-two going into the first turn. Always Dreaming just inherited the lead last time being a slow pace. He’s not a horse that needs to be on the lead. He’s working really well and looks really good. Obviously, he has to step up now to a different level. He’s running with better horses now. so hopefully he can step up and continue to do the same things as he’s done from the maiden to non-winners-of-one to stakes horses now.”

Owner Ron Sanchez (Quinientos, Post 5, 50-1):  “We’re very happy. I desired from the No. 7 to the inside, so that’s a very nice spot for the horse. We have Always Dreaming in the No. 4 spot and he has speed. My horse is a stalker, so we’re going to go middle of the pack and make one run to the wire. Hopefully, we can be a longshot to the wire. Gunnevera is a closer  -- he got a terrible spot in my opinion. So, Always Dreaming is going to go to the lead with Three Rules, so we’re going to be in the middle of the pack. When Gunnevera makes his move, we’re going to make our move. You can’t be behind him, you have to be in front of him and try to close. He’s in much better shape than he was when we ran the Fountain of Youth. He closed and finished sixth, but we lost fifth and fourth place very close. Right now, he’s going to run much better. He’s not a good worker in the mornings, but the last three workouts he improved a lot. The last one was very fast. He has gained weight and is very strong. He was training marvelous. I’m really sure we’re going to be there.

“It was at Fasig-Tipton in November, 2015 in Kentucky. I wasn’t supposed to buy a horse. I went there to sell my big mare Wildcat Lily so we put a reserve of $500,000. He was RNA'd for 380. So in the middle, I went and bought a horse and surprised my wife. I told my wife, ‘Hey, I got a horse,’ She said, ‘We have to name it Quinientos (500).’ I said, ‘Yeah and he’s going to be in the Florida Derby.’ Everything has been going perfectly.”

Jockey Jose Ortiz (Coleman Rocky, Post 6, 30-1): “I don’t want to be too far outside. I think it’s fine. I never rode the horse before. I don’t know the horse, but [trainer] Gustavo [Delgado] said the horse is doing good. I think it will be a good post position for him.”

Trainer Dale Romans (Impressive Edge, Post 8, 12-1): “The post is fine. It looks like a perfect spot. It looks like there’s some speed that can get out of there running and we’ll fall right in behind him hopefully. When he ran last time and he ran so well, Alex Solis manages the horse and we discussed what to do. I said we needed to try one big race somewhere. He’s here already, he’s run well here, so let’s see what happens.”

Jockey John Velazquez (Battalion Runner, Post 9, 3-1): “Post positions for both of them are actually pretty good, whichever runs. The four is very good for Always Dreaming, and Battalion Runner is quick enough that he’s going to be one-two going into the first turn. They’re very young horses and they seem that every time we ask them for something, they step up their game and are doing very well.”

Trainer Jose Pinchin (Three Rules, Post 10, 8-1): “I would have preferred an inside draw, but it is what it is. You have no control over it. He is by far the fastest horse in the race, but you don’t want to burn — you just want to break and get a good position. It’s up to the rider, totally, I’m not even giving him instructions. He will have to do what he has to do.”

Trainer Antonio Sano (Gunnevera, Post 11, 9-5): “No problem. If my horse had speed, it would be a problem, but horse will be in back, so no problem. From the outside post, Castellano can make his way to the inside and then make his run.”

In post position order:
1 State of Honor 8-1
2 Talk Logistics 30-1
3 Charlie the Greek 50-1
4 Always Dreaming 4-1
5 Quinientos 50-1
6 Coleman Rocky 30-1
7 Unbridled Holida 30-1
8 Impressive Edge 12-1
9 Battalion Runner, 3-1
10 Three Rules 8-1
11 Gunnevera 9-5