Mucciolo’s Sophomore Spotlight Recap: Florida Derby & Louisiana Derby

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April 5th, 2017

Florida Derby (G1):

Todd Pletcher’s ALWAYS DREAMING tracked the leader to the top of the lane and took command with ease in the lane to roll home a decisive five-length winner beneath John Velazquez in the $1 million race. Dark bay son of Bodemeister really looked the part in punching his ticket to the Kentucky Derby and finished strongly with a final three furlongs in :36 3/5, hinting that he has more in the tank going forward. $350,000 yearling buy has really elevated his game this campaign with a trio of two-turn wins under his belt and I put the colt very close to the top of the list at this stage with speed, class and a fine foundation under him for expert connections. If Always Dreaming works well at Churchill Downs, it would be tough to leave him off tickets on the First Saturday in May.

Runner-up STATE OF HONOR dances every dance for conditioner Mark Casse and picked up another graded placing with a stubborn stretch run to hold off the favorite for place honors. Son of To Honor and Serve is not in the upper echelon in his division but has endured a nice campaign in Florida and colt ran well while removing the blinkers, which was a good sign. I admire the consistency of the sophomore.

GUNNEVARA made a nice move along to the backstretch to midstretch before leveling off late, which keeps him on track for a trip to Louisville next month in my opinion. I wish the Antonio Sano pupil did a bit more to register the second-place medal in this tilt, though the son of Dialed In did earn another triple-digit BRIS Late Pace number and might benefit from getting an extra furlong to work with at Churchill, as well as a better pace scenario for his rally. Kentucky-bred chestnut remains in the upper tier of Kentucky Derby contenders despite only mustering the show under Javier Castellano. Louisiana Derby (G2):

GIRVIN was the one to beat entering the race and the Joe Sharp pupil made good on his favored status with a solid 1 ¼-length tally under the wire in the Fair Grounds feature. Son of Tale of Ekati is unbeaten from a trio of runs on the dirt and answered some questions by handling the nine furlongs pretty well under Brian Hernandez. Dark bay came home in a useful :12 4/5 for the final furlong to cement his status as a worthy Kentucky Derby contender, though I think he will need to both get faster and prove that he can take his show on the road with considering he’s raced exclusively at Fair Grounds. Girvin probably won’t be among the top choices at Churchill Downs next month but I will keep a close eye on how the game colt is training leading up to the race.

PATCH was an admirable second to the talented winner in just his third career start, and first try at two turns and against winners, for conditioner Todd Pletcher. I like this colt quite a bit currently and going forward – he gives me the impression of a talented sort who is something of a high-class “grinder.”  With that said, the Calumet homebred is simply too lightly raced at this juncture to be considered a prime Kentucky Derby contender in my eyes. Look for the bay to be a factor in the second two legs of the Triple Crown, or, perhaps, a major force in the big summer races as Patch gets more seasoning.

Third-place finisher LOCAL HERO continues to intrigue me and I have a feeling someday he will put it all together with a huge run at the highest level. $500,000 son of Hard Spun has been mostly head-strong to this point, and he moved a bit too early when striking the lead in the lane before tiring late in securing his second straight graded placing. Steve Asmussen trainee has improved his BRIS Speed figure with each lifetime performance and the natural speed that he possesses is something that you can’t teach. Dark bay colt may be a better miler than classic type, though I can’t label him as that just yet.

The past weekend finally brought some form to the prep season in 2017, with the logical ones running as I thought they would. I still question the depth of these Derby preps to this point, though, which puts a bit of a cloud over basically every runner. The next wave of Derby prep races should help make the picture clearer….I hope.