By Jim Freer
Gulfstream Park will draw post positions at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (Grade 1).
The Florida Derby is 1 1/8 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds, and is one of nine stakes races on Saturday’s card. Five of the day’s other stakes are graded.
First post will be 12:00 p.m. for Saturday’s 14-race card. The Gulfstream condition book shows the Florida Derby as the 14th race. Post time would be around 6:45 p.m.
On Wednesday evening we will have a story that includes the race schedule for Saturday.
The Florida Derby will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network (MBCSN) cable channel.
Gunnevera is the likely favorite, based on his runaway win in the 1 1/16 mile Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) at Gulfstream on March 4.
(Note — photo on home page is Gunnevera with co-owner Solomon Del Valle in the twilight following the Fountain of Youth. Photo by Barry Unterbrink.
The Fountain of Youth’s second through fourth place finishers also are expected back for the Florida Derby. They are Practical Joke, Three Rules and Talk Logistics.
Other likely Florida Derby starters are State of Honor, Impressive Edge, Unbridled Holiday and Always Dreaming.
As in previous years, there is the prospect that several other owners and trainers will enter horses in the Florida Derby.
Eyes on Kentucky
Purse money starts at $600,000 for the winner and filters down to include $50,000 for fourth place. There also is the chance to earn a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby.
The Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby are both “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying points races. The qualifying points in the Florida Derby are 100, 40, 20 and ten for the first through fourth places.
Gunnevera has 64 points, including 50 for winning the Fountain of Youth. He is virtually assured a spot in the 20-horse field for the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Last year the cutoff for horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby was 32 points. That was the highest yet in the system that Churchill Downs began in 2013.
Among horses listed above, Gunnevera and four others have earned Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Point totals are – Practical Joke 32, State of Honor 22, Three Rules 10 and Talk Logistics 6.
Thus, all of the Florida Derby runners except Gunnevera and perhaps Practical Joke will need points on Saturday, or otherwise not get into the Kentucky Derby. The 40 points for finishing second in the Florida Derby likely will be assurance for making the Kentucky Derby.
Gunnevera has a late-running style similar to his sire Dialed In who won the 2011 Florida Derby and finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
In the Fountain of Youth, Gunnevera took the lead coming out of the turn and powered ahead to beat Practical Joke by 5 ¾ lengths. Three Rules finished third, another half-length back.
Last year, Gunnevera won the Delta Jackpot (Grade 3) at Delta Downs in Vinton, La., and the Saratoga Special (Grade 3) at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Regular jockey Javier Castellano is scheduled to ride Gunnevera for trainer Antonio Sano.
On Saturday, jockey Leonel Reyes rode Gunnevera in his final workout for the Florida Derby. He was clocked in 1:01.80 for five furlongs at Gulfstream Park West (Calder).
The time ranked seventh of 20 horses and was notably quicker than Gunnevera’s breeze March 18 that went in 1:04.60
“The jockey did exactly as I asked him and it went perfect,” Sano told the Gulfstream media office. “He was very calm on my horse. The last two furlongs I got him in :10 4/5 and the gallop out was very good.”
Sano added: “Last week the horse worked very slow. He is ready for the race (Florida Derby). He didn’t need more for the Florida Derby, so I breezed him looking ahead to the next one (Kentucky Derby).”
Practical Joke’s Kentucky Derby qualifying points are from his second place finish in the Fountain of Youth, third place in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1) at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., and wins in two Grade 1 stakes at New York tracks. Those races were the Champagne at Belmont Park in Elmont. N.Y., and the Hopeful at Saratoga.
Three Rules swept last year’s three-race Florida Sire Stakes series at Gulfstream. Those races are open only to designated Florida-breds, and thus are not eligible for graded status from the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Jockey Club.
Churchill Downs only includes graded stakes in its of 35 qualifying points races.
Luis Saez is scheduled to ride Three Rules in the Florida Derby. Trainer Jose Pinchin recently said he will not enter Three Rules in the Kentucky Derby, and will instead wait to run him in the Preakness (Grade 1) at Pimlico in Baltimore on May 20.
Each of qualifying races run in 2016 had points awards of 10-4-2-1. Kentucky Derby points are awarded based on which of three periods they are run, with all three grades treated the same.
State of Honor finished third in this year’s Sam F. Davis (Grade 3) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2)–both at Tampa Bay Downs. It is likely that State of Honor’s regular jockey Julien Leparoux will ride for trainer Mark Casse on Saturday.
Talk Logistics has Kentucky Derby points from fourth place finishes in the Fountain of Youth and in the 1 1/16 mile Holy Bull (Grade 2) at Gulfstream on Feb. 4. Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. has named Joe Bravo to ride in the Florida Derby.
Among the likely starters listed in this story, early speed has been shown by State of Honor, Three Rules and Always Dreaming.
A list of the other remaining Kentucky Derby points qualifying races may be found in the article “Kentucky Derby Preps Schedule” in our Derby Trail section. It can be accessed in the menu at the top of the home page of this Web site.