The first order of business for Todd Pletcher upon arriving at Palm Beach Downs the morning of April 2 was to check on his 3-year-old star of the moment, Always Dreaming, who gave both the trainer and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez their record fourth victory in the $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1).
Pletcher couldn't have been happier with the dark bay or brown son of Bodemeister , a commanding five-length winner in his stakes debut.
NOVAK: Always Dreaming Runs Away With Florida Derby
"He's excellent. It seemed like he recuperated quickly after the race, cooled out good, looked good this morning, settled back here into Palm Beach Downs and all is well," Pletcher said.
"He seems to be in excellent form. I was really pleased with the way he came back to the winner's circle. It just seemed like he recovered quickly from the race and cooled out quickly, and was bright, alert, and happy back in his stall. Initially, he's showing us all the signs you're hoping for."
After steadying between rivals on the first turn, Always Dreaming settled off early leader Three Rules on the outside before rolling to the lead after straightening for home and drawing off to win in 1:47.47, the fastest Florida Derby since Alydar's 1:47 flat in 1978.
"Honestly I can't say it surprised us," Pletcher said. "It was what we felt like he was capable of doing based on the way he had been training, but you're always pleased to see him deliver the type of performance you're hoping for. He certainly did that, and then some."
Always Dreaming, owned by the partnership of Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, St. Elias Stable, MeB Racing Stables, Siena Farm ,and West Point Thoroughbreds, will remain at Palm Beach Downs for at least the next couple weeks before shipping to Churchill Downs for the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
"I've got to kind of map out a schedule in terms of when we'll ship to Churchill," Pletcher said. "We'll look to have a breeze or possibly two breezes at Churchill, but we'll kind of play it by ear and see what the shipping arrangements look like and see what the weather's doing in Kentucky and take all those into consideration."
Trainer Mark Casse reported Sunday that State of Honor, Floriday Derby runner-up, exited his race in good order and is bound for Churchill mid-week, where he will also target the Kentucky Derby.
Immediately after State of Honor finished second by five lengths, Casse said he was inclined to run the son of To Honor and Serve , who is owned by his breeder, Conrad Farms, in the Louisville classic.
Sunday morning, Casse was even more bullish on the idea. In the Florida Derby, State of Honor, with Julien Leparoux up, was racing without blinkers, a change the trainer initiated in hopes of getting the Canadian-bred to relax.
"The winner was very impressive," Casse said. "Was there anything we could have done to change the outcome? No. I think if he had settled a little better ... you know, he's still learning to settle, which we're trying to achieve. I think he did that in the middle of the race, he didn't do it early. He was probably a little bit intimidated down inside, turning for home, where (Always Dreaming) kind of got first kick on him, where we had to play catch-up.
"I was actually, after watching the replay, more impressed with his performance than initially," he added. "He's a very consistent horse and ran well, so I think he deserves a shot. The owners are excited, we're excited, and he's going to Kentucky."
State of Honor, who ran second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in March, currently sits in fifth on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 62 points.
Florida Derby beaten favorite Gunnevera emerged from his third-place finish in good order, said trainer Antonio Sano Sunday morning.
"Gunnevera is very good, very good. He was checked by the vet, and everything is very good," said Sano, whose even-money favorite trailed the 10-horse field after breaking from the far outside post and rallied late to finish third.
"I'm very happy with my horse," Sano said. "Considering everything, it was a good race for my horse."
Gunnevera previously finished a troubled second in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and then won the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) to establish himself as a prime candidate for the Derby.
Sano said the son of Dialed In is scheduled to ship to Churchill April 22 to begin preparations, which includes a planned breeze April 29.
Trainer Dale Romans said he had no plans as of yet for Impressive Edge, who finished fourth Saturday.
"We'll see how he comes out of this race, but I will find a good spot for him," Romans said. "I think the winner is a really good horse, I think the second horse is a really good horse, I think they're all really good horses and I think they will all have an impact on the Triple Crown series."