Always Dreaming’s connections had a plan when it came to how to prepare for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and it all went down according to plan when he won the 143rd running of the roses. According to trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Vinnie Viola and Anthony Bonomo, they wanted Always Dreaming to peak in the Derby.
With only two races during his age-two campaign, everything had to go right leading up to the 2017 Derby, but most importantly, Always Dreaming had to execute. That’s easier said and done though, but Always Dreaming was up to the task.
First up was a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs, and luckily John Velazquez, who rode Always Dreaming to Kentucky Derby glory, was in the area.
“We wanted him to go two turns, and he was ready to run,” said Pletcher. “On that particular day, Gulfstream had a seven-furlong race and a mile-and-an-eighth race. I didn’t want to run him a mile-an-eighth since he hadn’t run since August, and I didn’t really want to run him seven furlongs. Fortunately, Johnny had gone to OBS to ride for us and it worked out that he could be there the next day at Tampa. I said, ‘Hey, I think you’ll want to ride this horse.’ Everything just kind of fell into place.
“It was part of the plan that we had talked about, bringing him along instead of peaking too soon.”
Always Dreaming dominated the Tampa Bay assignment, winning by 11 and half lengths. Instead of racing in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) next, Always Dreaming’s connections decided an allowance race at Gulfstream to prepare for the Florida Derby (G1) would be better. They were right and Always Dreaming won that race by four lengths. Then the biggest test came next: the Florida Derby.
“The one thing that we wanted to do was have the horse peak [in the Kentucky Derby], not in the Florida Derby or not in the Fountain of Youth,” said Pletcher. “There was some risk with that plan. Because by not going in the Fountain of Youth, he had no [Derby qualifying] points at that stage of his career.
“But we felt like we were all comfortable taking our best shot at the Florida Derby as his only point‑eligible prep. And we all were comfortable with the fact that if something happened and he didn’t earn enough points, that we were willing to live with that decision.”
Always Dreaming would win the Florida Derby by five lengths and all that planning culminated in his eventual Kentucky Derby win.