While Girvin won Saturday’s Louisiana Derby as expected, Always Dreaming made a stronger impression winning the Florida Derby. Moreover, his performance had a significant impact on Churchill Downs’ final Kentucky Derby Future Book Wagering pool.
Before the weekend, Always Dreaming was listed at 50-1 to win this year’s Derby. But, after he drew clear by more than four lengths from State of Honor and favored Gunnevera in Gulfstream Park’s richest Derby prep, Always Dreaming dropped to 6-1 in Churchill’s future book pool. That left him just a notch higher than the 5-1 odds for future book betting favorite McCraken. (See chart at right for complete list of CDFB odds through last weekend.)
While no one should ignore the Derby chances of Girvin, or the two horses who finished right behind Always Dreaming at Gulfstream, three aspects of Always Dreaming’s performance stood out.
Even though Always Dreaming showed good speed stalking the relatively brisk pace set by Three Rules (6 furlongs in 1:10.75) his early exertion did not seem to diminish the power of his winning rally.
In this, his second straight winning race at nine furlongs and third straight for red hot trainer Todd Pletcher, Always Dreaming seemed to improve sharply on cue as we moved to within five weeks of the 10 furlong classic at Churchill Downs, May 6.
Given the way this colt galloped out after covering 1-1/8 miles in 1:47.47 for a good 97 Beyer Speed Figure, I believe the 1-1/4 mile Derby distance as well as the 1-3/16 mile Preakness and the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes, could be a good fit for this grandson of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker.
At this point in the Derby chase, with three more $1 million Derby preps scheduled for this Saturday in New York, Kentucky and California, followed by the equally rich Arkansas Derby on April 15, Pletcher seems loaded for this year’s Derby. Fact is, he has five different Derby contenders listed on Churchill’s final future book pool!
In addition to Always Dreaming, Pletcher has Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit; Rebel stakes winner Malagacy; Southwest stakes winner One Liner and Battalion Runner, winner of his seasonal debut at Gulfstream on Feb. 3.
Pletcher even has two more Derby threats, Master Plan, who finished third in the UAE Derby in Meydan on March 25, and longshot Bonus Points.
On Saturday, he will saddle Battalion Runner and Bonus Points in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct where Mo Town and Irish War Cry will be the logical horses to beat. On the same day at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, Pletcher will send out Tapwrit in the Blue Grass Stakes where that colt will face the highly regarded J Boys Echo and Derby future book favorite McCraken.
Despite the way McCraken has been supported in the Churchill’s future book pool, he must produce a good effort in the Blue Grass to stay on the Derby trail. That’s because he has been forced to endure minor physical issues since beating Tapwrit in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa on Feb. 11.
Although Pletcher will not have a horse in the Santa Anita Derby, he probably will send One Liner and Malagacy to the Arkansas Derby, the following week.
Meanwhile, four-time Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert probably lost his best 2017 Derby prospect when Mastery injured his left front ankle minutes after scoring an impressive victory in the San Felipe Stakes, March 11. So, now Baffert has pinned his Derby hopes on the lightly raced Reach The World in Saturday’s wide-open SA Derby. Wide open actually is a perfect way to describe the way this year’s Kentucky Derby is shaping up.