As trainer Todd Pletcher hoped, a day made all the difference in regard to grade 1 winner Always Dreaming.
After being exceptionally headstrong in his training for the first leg of the Triple Crown since arriving at Churchill Downs, the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) winner was on his best behavior yet the morning of May 2 as he headed out under the early morning darkness with exercise rider Nick Bush in the irons.
Pletcher made the decision to add draw reins to Always Dreaming in an effort to harness the aggression the son of Bodemeister was showing during his time in Louisville. In his second day with the added equipment, the dark bay colt was noticeably more settled compared to his Monday outing, when he bucked several times.
"He was nice and relaxed, much better. He put his head down and was good to go," said Bush. "With those draw reins, they are very tough reins and the horse didn't know them quite yet. The first day, it's just hard for them to put their head down because they just don't know. The second day, he realizes what is going on and he puts his head down and just relaxes very well."
While his connections acknowledge that they don't want Always Dreaming too fired up when he has to run the race of his life with 160,000 of his closest friends screaming in his ear, both Bush and Pletcher say they are taking the colt's eager behavior as a positive sign of what may come when he heads to the starting gate for the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
"The horse is moving fantastic. We want to be able to control that energy and I think we've made big strides in doing that overnight," Pletcher said. "I would much rather be in this position than to come in with a horse not feeling good or hanging his head."
Always Dreaming has a real opportunity to become the first Pletcher-trained starter to go off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. His five-length triumph in the Florida Derby marked his third consecutive victory from five career starts, and he put in a buzzworthy bullet five-furlong move in :59 3/5 over the Churchill track April 28.
"He's one of the top horses I've been on in a long time," said the veteran Bush, who was sidelined for four months after fracturing two vertebra in a spill last July. "His energy level is a good thing I think come Saturday. He's coming out of his skin right now."