Trainer Todd Pletcher has a big chance in Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming
I have some advance interest in the upcoming 143rd Kentucky Derby, as I'm holding tickets and already played Always Dreaming at the sports books. The coverage of the Kentucky Derby is tremendous, and I provided an article earlier this week outlining some Twitter feeds to follow. I've added my thoughts and interest on Always Dreaming below.
I was offered a chance to attend my first Kentucky Derby this year as a credentialed media member. While it's Always (been a) Dream to attend Churchill Downs in Louisville for the spectacle racing event and America's biggest and most popular horse race, I'll be more prepared and train better in the next few years in hopes of attending my first ever Kentucky Derby. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Breeders' Cup in 2016 at Santa Anita, and even had some success with a handful of winners. I'll be attending the 2017 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar as media, and few tracks are as fine as Del Mar just North of San Diego and Santa Anita nearby to Los Angeles.
The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is a week away on Saturday, May 6 at Churchill Downs. Here's my analysis and insight into one of the favorites, Always Dreaming.
Always Dreaming Career Statistics
Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings: $589,000
Always Dreaming is the only Derby horse with two victories at 1 1/8 miles. That includes his most impressive recent win in the Florida Derby in his stakes debut. This is one of the very deserving Derby favorites, yet you could have bet him in the Derby Future Pool 3 at 50-1 prior to his winning the Florida Derby.
Always Dreaming is the strong son of Bodemeister, who did not race at age 2 but finished 2nd behind I'll Have Another in the 2012 Kentucky Derby as the 4-1 favorite. He led all the way and took a 3-length lead in the stretch before being passed by I'll Have Another in the final 150 yards. He finished 2nd in the Preakness and just missed by a neck behind I'll Have Another again. That would be the well-bred, talented colt's final face, as Bodemeister was diagnosed with nerve damage in his shoulder and retired to stud. Always Dreaming's pedigree also has Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew along with Derby winner Northern Dancer on his sires side, and his grand sire Empire Maker finished 2nd in the Derby in 2003 and won three Grade 1 races that year including the Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes. Note too that the last four Derby winners had Secretariat on at least one side of their pedigree – an unusual new trend.
Always Dreaming was winless in two starts at age 2, and then Todd Pletcher took over training and he's been a work in progress. But the potential was shown at age 3 in his 11 ½ length win at Tampa Bay Downs to break his maiden. He was on the improve and Pletcher stayed patient, bypassing the Fountain of Youth and knowing his late-blooming colt was sitting on a big performance in the Florida Derby. Always Dreaming delivered big as he responded willingly to rider Johnny V's command turning for home and then kicked clear to win by 5-lengths with a strong closing eighth mile.
Some key speed figures and stats for Always Dreaming:
- 97 Beyer Speed Figure in Florida Derby, and 123 TimeformUS speed rating for the Florida Derby was fourth fastest of all Derby prep races
- Final time of 1:47.47 was the fastest in the Florida Derby since Alydar in 1978
- 7 of the last 25 Derby winners won the Florida Derby – most of any Derby prep race
Horses that are finishing strongly at the end of their prep races are more likely to handle the distance of the Kentucky Derby (1 ¼ miles) than horses that are tiring at the end of their prep races. Thus, many handicappers believe one of the key factors to emphasize is how fast each contender ran the last three-eighths of a mile in their final prep race.
Always Dreaming ran a final 3/8 mile in 36.56 seconds in his final prep at the Florida Derby. Generally, a final three-eighths time of less than 38 seconds is considered good, and Always Dreaming posted the second-fastest final-eighth mile time of all Derby horses. Of course, these times can be affected by a variety of factors, including the speed of the racetrack and the early pace of the race (it's easier to finish fast if you've gone very slow early on). However, the fact remains that each of the last five Kentucky Derby winners – and 15 of the last 20 – ran the last three-eighths of their final Derby prep race in less than 38 seconds. Ten Derby horses, including Always Dreaming fit that speed figure profile, and his final Florida Derby time of 1:47.47 was faster than both Spectacular Bid (1979) and Big Brown (2008), who both went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Always Dreaming has a Derby name many fans love, but this is not a long shot that fans can dream about hitting a big score. We may shoot for a longer shot or two to complete the exotics, but Always Dreaming is our Derby winner. Despite just one Derby win with 45 starters, trainer Todd Pletcher has a strong contender this year and his late-blooming beauty is well-conditioned and bred, and also in good hands with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Always Dreaming is a classy Derby favorite that is a fast horse with push-button acceleration, versatility and beautiful action. His stalking style and late speed should prove best in the Kentucky Derby, and his recent racing, improvement, overall presence and consistently impressive workouts with super gallop-outs suggests he'll be a strong contender. We feel Always Dreaming will have a say in the final furlong and provide the extra gear when the real running begins for the Run for the Roses.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay