How Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby
Since Always Dreaming arrived in Todd Pletcher’s barn last September, the talented son of Bodemeister is a perfect 4-for-4, including impressive victories in the Florida Derby on April 1 and this month’s Kentucky Derby.
Such a run at this time of year, of course, prompts the inevitable question: Can he go 6-for-6?
Put more simply: Can Always Dreaming become the second horse in the last three years to win the Triple Crown?
First things first. Saturday brings the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“Always Dreaming strikes me as the type of colt that will be well-suited to the Preakness,” said J. Keeler Johnson, a race analyst for The Blood-Horse and America’s Best Racing. “More often than not, horses that win the Derby while racing on or near the lead are able to reproduce their Derby form in the Preakness, whereas horses that rally from far back in the Derby tend to struggle at Pimlico.”
Always Dreaming strikes me as the type of colt that will be well-suited to the Preakness.
Race analyst J. Keeler Johnson
Johnson points to Big Brown (2008), I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014) and American Pharoah (2015) who tracked the pace to win the Derby before adding the Preakness to their trophy cases. Meanwhile, late-running Derby winners Street Sense (2007), Mine That Bird (2009), Super Saver (2010), Animal Kingdom (2011) and Orb (2013) all fell short in Baltimore.
It’s a tricky turnaround for Pletcher, a trainer whose successful philosophy revolves around allowing his horses plenty of time between races. In the past, the seven-time Eclipse Award winner has passed on the Preakness in favor of saving his stable for the Belmont Stakes, the marquee race at his home base of Belmont Park.
Pletcher has never won the Preakness, but neither has he gone all-out to win the Preakness. While tied with D. Wayne Lukas for most career Kentucky Derby starters with 48, his career Preakness starters number eight. When Stradivari ran fourth last year, it was Pletcher’s first Preakness appearance since 2011.
“The main challenge for Always Dreaming might be the two-week turnaround, as Pletcher doesn’t typically run his horses on such short rest, but Always Dreaming has had a relatively easy campaign this year and might still be improving,” Johnson said. “If he shows the same enthusiasm in his morning training as he did before the Derby, I would expect another big performance.”
Pletcher seems to agree. On an NTRA teleconference last week, the trainer said, “It is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know how horses are going to respond to that until you get into the stretch of the race, and that’s really when you find out what they have left in reserve. But we like what we’re seeing so far. All indications are he’s bounced out of the race quickly.”
Pletcher encountered this scenario with WinStar Farm’s Super Saver in 2010. Back then, he breezed his first Derby winner before an eighth-place finish in the Preakness. Now, he has chosen a different tact with his second, choosing to gallop Always Dreaming without a breeze during the two-week layoff.
“I’m just trying to focus the two weeks on kind of refueling the tank a little bit,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, he can show at the Preakness all he has.”
10Number of the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners who went on to win Preakness
If Always Dreaming is successful Saturday, then we can look ahead to what might happen three weeks later in New York.
“If Always Dreaming can overcome the short rest to win the Preakness, then winning the Belmont Stakes might actually be an easier task,” Johnson said. “Pletcher has a fantastic record in the Belmont Stakes, with a pair of wins and a couple of near-misses, and Always Dreaming’s tactical speed could be a huge advantage.”
First, Always Dreaming has to give Pletcher his first Preakness win. Then, we can really start dreaming.
Beyer speed figures for Kentucky Derby winners
I'll Have Another
Mine That Bird
Go for Gin
Lil E. Tee
Strike the Gold
6:45 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (NBC-18)