The lead-up to the 2017 Triple Crown was marred in mystery. No horse had a definitive edge over the other. Classic Empire held fast as the 4/1 favorite but had a rocky road along the derby trail. McCraken, Irish War Cry and many others rose to the challenge during the prep race season but never cemented themselves as a rock solid option. The only horse that seemed to be trending along the right path was Always Dreaming.
So when the 5/1 second choice in the derby was doing all the right things in the final week of prep prior to the first leg of the 2017 Triple Crown, I lobbied to back him. The bet paid off. Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby handedly and has now collected four straight victories by a combined winning margin of 23 1/2 lengths.
Always Dreaming’s only other stakes victory in his career was in the Florida Derby, a race he won easily while being hand ridden by John Velazquez. As my colleagues have written, Always Dreaming is already at Pimlico Racecourse and seems to be settling in quite nicely. “The race, I think, took nothing out of him. We’re happy. He bounced back almost immediately,” said Gina DePasquale, an assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher who has been part of his stable for over two decades.
People close to horse racing know that maintaining health is the most important element to winning all three legs, and the 2017 Triple Crown will be no different. California Chrome sort-of broke down by the time he arrived at the Belmont in 2014. Nyquist and Exaggerator just weren’t good enough amidst a competitive field. Others like I’ll Have Another and Big Brown have simply not been able to survive the gruelling challenge that the Triple Crown represents. Simply put, it’s not easy, which is one of the many reasons the trilogy is so special.
Two years ago, American Pharoah dazzled audiences around the world by stomping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont fields. It was a milestone accomplishment both for the horse, his connections and the sport itself since Affirmed was the last horse to win a Triple Crown in 1978. There was growing concern that the biggest achievement possible in this sport was now unattainable given how good breeding, training and preparation was getting across the board.
That brings us to the strength of the field in this year’s 2017 Triple Crown. It’s apparent that Always Dreaming is on another level. The fact that he enters the Preakness with so much positive energy flowing around him buoys the fact that he doesn’t have that many contenders to deal with outside of himself. As long as he shows up with his best effort, he should have no problem dispatching of his rivals. And that’s fine – nobody ever remembers who strong a field is for a Triple Crown.
That could be a bigger story given how weak the 2017 Triple Crown field feels, but the fact that we could be staring at yet another historic champion is an absolutely exciting development. It’s a story that we were frankly unsure of just a few days ago. A strong run in the Preakness could set up big numbers for the Belmont, which would ultimately lead to promising outputs for thoroughbred racing, its broadcasting partners and sportsbooks around the world.
Always Dreaming, you have our attention.