2017 Florida Derby Preview: All Eyes at Gulfstream on Gunnevera

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1:57 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017 1:57 PM UTC

As the calendar turns the page to April, the 2017 Kentucky Derby Trail turns its attention to one of the biggest prep races on the schedule with the running of Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby as the main event on the card at Gulfstream Park.

Given the fact it is one of the biggest prep races on the Kentucky Derby Trail, the winner of Saturday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park will immediately move to the top of the list as one of the favored contenders to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The list of all the probable entries has been set, and while the projected field runs deep in talent the following three horses move to the head of the class to form this week’s free trifecta play.

 2017 Florida Derby

This is a Grade 1 stakes race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds and the total prize purse for this year’s event stands at $1 million. It is be contested on the dirt track at Gulfstream over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.

The biggest buzz for Saturday’s race is the probable return to the track for trainer Antonio Sano’s Gunnevera, who has established himself as one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. After winning this year’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in early March at a distance of 1 1/16 miles, this Kentucky-bred colt should open as the morning line favorite for the Florida Derby. With a lofty Horse Racing Nation rank of No. 29 to go along with the highest rating (8.32) in the projected field, I would have to go chalk with him as my favorite as well.

The son of Dialed In started this season with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream to create a definite home-track advantage for this race. Over the course of his early racing career, Gunnevera has finished first or second in six of eight events.

My second choice for Saturday would be trainer Mark Casse’s State of Honor. While this Canadian-bred colt comes into this race unranked by HRN and well down this list in ratings at 5.84, it is hard to ignore his recent second-place run in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at a distance of 1 1/16 miles. He started the year by taking second in the 1 mile ungraded Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream before finishing third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11 behind Kentucky Derby contenders McCraken and Tapwrit.

In six career events, this pedigree of To Honor and Serve has managed to finish in the money all six times, including a second-place run in the Coronation Futurity Stakes at Woodbine in his final race as a juvenile.

Rounding out my trifecta play for this year’s Florida Derby is Third Day. Trained by Todd Pletcher, this Kentucky-bred colt has the second-highest HRN rating in the projected field at 7.17 despite the fact that he has been relatively untested early in his racing career. The main reason he is high on my list for Saturday is his recent victory at Gulfstream in the ungraded Just One More Stakes on Feb. 8 at a distance of 1 mile. In his only race as a juvenile, he won a Maiden Special Weight event at Monmouth at a distance of 5½ furlongs. This is another contender who knows this track while boasting a trainer who knows how to get horses ready for major stakes events.

This son of Bernardini with a progeny that can be traced all the way back to Seattle Slew obviously has great racing blood, and I believe we are going to see a great performance from Third Day come Saturday.  

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