The name of the horse in question is as apt as a rose on the first Saturday in May.
For all he has brought his connections, 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Always Dreaming has members of his jam-packed partnership looking forward to a 4-year-old campaign, and the son of Bodemeister took strides toward fulfilling those dreams Jan. 29 when he returned to the work tab in Florida.
With regular exercise rider Nick Bush in the irons for trainer Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs, Always Dreaming went an easy three furlongs in :37.13. It was his first official work since he was found to have stomach ulcers after the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), a discovery that cut short his 3-year-old campaign.
"It was a nice work, what I would call a controlled work," said co-owner Anthony Bonomo of Brooklyn Boyz Stable. "He's been back with Todd for a while, and Todd knows when they're ready. I think the work was what he expected and what he wanted. The horse was happy as heck, which is always nice to see. I think he was happy to say, 'OK, I can run for once today.' I think he knew today was the day, and he did it very nice and very easy.
"He looks beautiful and I'm encouraged that he's all systems go. You've got to be optimistic about him, because in the beginning of the year, I don't think anybody would have beaten him. We're hoping he comes back to form—there's a lot of good horses out there—but he's certainly one of them. One work does not make everything, but we're optimistic he'll return to the horse he was last year."
An earner of $2,344,700 to date, Always Dreaming captured the 2017 Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) by five lengths in his stakes debut, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.47—the fastest running of the race since Alydar in 1978. That performance made the dark bay colt the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, which he won by 2 3/4 lengths—the largest margin of victory in the race's past six years.
Despite an eighth in the Preakness Stakes (G1), a third in the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2), and a ninth in the Travers, Always Dreaming's connections have maintained faith in the brilliance that sparkled early in his sophomore season. So have some of the industry's leading operations, as WinStar Farm, SF Bloodstock, and China Horse Club joined the ownership group of MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds for Always Dreaming's 4-year-old campaign and future stallion career.
Always Dreaming recovered from the ulcers at WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky., where he will stand when his racing career is complete. He returned to light training at the operation's conditioning branch before he was shipped in December to Pletcher's Florida string.
"We did quite a bit of hill work with him," said Elliott Walden, WinStar's president and CEO of racing operations. "We have the gallop up the hill and he went on that three times a week. It's a great tool."
Walden shared a favorable report from Pletcher.
"I got a text from Todd with the set sheet and time written out, and then it said 'Perfect,'" Walden said. "Todd said (Always Dreaming) was fitter than he thought he'd be, and he's handled returning to training extremely well. He's just so athletic, I think he does things very easily. It's not like he's a big brute of a horse, he's very athletic and well-balanced, and those types tend to come around quicker."
"WinStar is a fantastic place that does a fantastic job, and we're thrilled to have them as partners," Bonomo added. "The time spent there was tremendously important if we were going to get him a 4-year-old campaign, and once we decided to do that, WinStar was the perfect place for him. They took really good care of him. They're consumate professionals."
Bonomo spoke of the recent success of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner , who retired to Three Chimneys Farm after winning the Jan. 27 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), as an inspiration. Gun Runner won the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) as a 4-year-old and was kept in training for the early part of his 5-year-old season to target the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park.
"I think racing deserves to see these horses come back," Bonomo said. "It's good for racing and for fans of racing. Sometimes the stars don't all leave at once. We had a good year in 2017 with a lot of good horses that departed to the breeding shed, so we're looking forward to Always Dreaming coming back."
Bred in Kentucky by Mike Ryan and Gerry Dilger's Santa Rosa Partners, Always Dreaming is out of the grade 3-winning, grade 1-placed and multiple grade 1-producing In Excess mare Above Perfection, and is a half brother to Saratoga grade 1-winning juvenile Hot Dixie Chick. He was purchased by agent Steve Young for $350,000 from Dromoland Farm's consignment to the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.
The colt's connections have not yet announced a potential target spot for their multiple grade 1 winner in 2018.
"The excitement is for when he's going to race, but that's up to Todd. With it being his first work back today, I don't know if Todd has anything in mind—not until March or April at least," Bonomo said. "I'd love to see him come back in a non-winners of four allowance race where things aren't as crazy. 'In Todd we trust,' so that's what we'll do.
"I do think he looks great, and he's totally healthy—that's the key. We're looking forward to seeing him run."