01/05/2018 12:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Always Dreaming

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In a year when no 3-year-old male clearly stood above the others, Always Dreaming stakes his claim to the Eclipse Award by virtue of winning the one race everyone else would have loved to have won, the Kentucky Derby.

It was Always Dreaming who proved best on the first Saturday in May, culminating a four-race win streak to start the year that had him ready to be at his absolute best when it counted most. He won four times in seven starts on the year, and his two Grade 1 wins – in the Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby – tie him for the divisional lead in that department.

Always Dreaming was brought along with patience by trainer Todd Pletcher, who chose a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs and an allowance at Gulfstream on the undercard of the Fountain of Youth as building blocks for Always Dreaming, rather than throwing him into the deep end of the pool before he was ready.

By the time of the Florida Derby on April 1, Always Dreaming was set to face the best Derby prospects on the East Coast, and he responded with an emphatic five-length victory that stamped him as the horse to beat five weeks later at Churchill Downs.

Always Dreaming continued to train brilliantly for the Derby after arriving at Churchill Downs, but he became overly aggressive in his first gallops exiting his final work, leading Pletcher to call an audible that ultimately got Always Dreaming into the end zone.

Concerned that Always Dreaming could use up his energy in the days leading up to the Derby, Pletcher changed equipment – putting Always Dreaming in draw reins – and exercise riders, hoping to keep a horse obviously primed from being overcooked. Always Dreaming proved a convincing winner of the Derby, prevailing by 2 3/4 lengths. The last-minute adjustments had worked.

“We felt he was sitting on go,” Pletcher said after the Derby. “We were trying to deliver him at 6:45 on Saturday instead of 6:45 on Thursday morning.”

Two weeks later, Always Dreaming finished eighth of 10 in the Preakness. He then got a two-month break and returned to finish third in the Jim Dandy, his prep for the Travers.

In the Travers, Always Dreaming chased West Coast early but tired and finished ninth of 12. He would not race again the rest of the year.

While he was recuperating last fall at WinStar Farm, it was discovered that Always Dreaming was suffering from ulcers. “It explains a lot about his regression in form,” said Elliott Walden, president and chief executive of WinStar.

Always Dreaming, by Bodemeister and out of the In Excess mare Above Perfection, was purchased as a yearling for $350,000 at the Keeneland September sale by Vinnie and Teresa Viola and Anthony and Maryellen Bonomo, they subsequently partnered with West Point Thoroughbreds, Sienna Farm, SF Bloodstock, China Horse Club, and WinStar on the ownership of Always Dreaming, who was bred by Santa Rosa Partners.

Always Dreaming recently returned to training with Pletcher in Florida at Palm Beach Downs, pointing for a 4-year-old campaign that should begin in late spring.