Todd Pletcher is likely heading to the Kentucky Derby with a big group of runners again, and Always Dreaming may be the best of the group. He doesn't have a whole lot of experience to draw from, and he has only one stakes win, but the three races the horse has run in 2017 have been wildly impressive. So, will this horse succeed where so many prior Pletcher horses have failed? The one thing we know for sure is that in this mostly underwhelming group of horses this year there are certainly a lot of horses less likely to win the Derby than this one.
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Last race: The Florida Derby is a tough spot for a horse to make a stakes debut - it's really jumping into the deep end. He certainly didn't seem bothered by the jump in class, though. Three Rules set the pace, and Always Dreaming settled just off the pace in third. His jockey was actively holding him back to maintain the position. He moved up steadily, seized the lead exiting the final turn, and pulled away incredibly easily for a five-length win. He could easily have won by much more if he'd needed to because he wasn't working hard at all in the final furlong. It was a very impressive win.
Prior experience: He made his debut on July 1 at Belmont, finishing third in a maiden race. Late in August he tried again at Saratoga, improving to second. He was given a break until the end of January, and when he returned he had been moved into the Pletcher stable. It made all the difference. He was incredibly impressive breaking his maiden, crossing the wire 12 lengths clear. Next he moved into allowance company on the Fountain of Youth stakes undercard. He was never really challenged as he won by four lengths. This horse really has things figured out as a four year old.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. What can you say about Todd Pletcher and the Derby? Not much positive. They guy has won more races than most people could count in a month, but he is a disaster in the Derby - which is, oddly, the race that his business is built around more than any other. He has entered 45 horses in the race - a ridiculously high number - and he has won the race just once. And that win was with Super Saver - far from the best horse he has ever entered. It would seem to be almost impossible for any trainer to have so little success in this race - never mind one as talented, or as flooded with resources, as Pletcher is. It's one of the true mysteries of sport.
Jockey: John Velazquez has his choice of Pletcher horses, and he has ridden several this year. He hasn't committed yet, but it seems reasonable that this would be his eventual choice. Velazquez has long been Pletcher's first-choice rider, which means that he hasn't had a lot of luck in the Derby. The only win he has was in 2011 when Pletcher's Uncle Mo was scratched in the week before the Derby, and Velazquez caught the ride on Animal Kingdom. While Velazquez hasn't done well on the first Saturday in May he is certainly no slouch in big races - the hall of famer has won two Belmonts, 13 Breeders' Cup races, two Eclipse awards, and pretty much every race the East Coast has to offer multiple times. If Velazquez lands in this saddle then the horse is in good hands. If he does not then Pletcher will have no trouble finding a top rider to pilot him.
Breeding: Always Dreaming is a son of a former star of Pletcher rival Bob Baffert's stable. Bodemeister was second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 2012. In both races he set a rapid pace while leading out of the gate, and both times he was caught close to the wire by I'll Have Another. We never really got to see what Bodemeister could do because the Preakness wound up being his final race. This is Bodemeister's first class of three year olds. Damsire In Excess was another frontrunner who won a string of huge races in 1991. He was at his best in races of a mile or a mile and an eighth. In Excess is the grandsire of Pletcher's Uncle Mo. It's no surprise that Always Dreaming has speed, but the distance has to be a concern.
Odds: BetOnline has Always Dreaming as the third choice to win the Derby at +650, currently behind only McCracken at +550 and Classic Empire at +575. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager offered by Churchill Downs on the weekend of the Florida Derby this horse wound up as the second choice at 6/1, behind only 5/1 favorite McCraken.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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