Always Dreaming in his final comeback work March 24 at Palm Beach Downs

Always Dreaming in his final comeback work March 24 at Palm Beach Downs

Dana Wimpfheimer

Always Dreaming Set for Seasonal Bow in Hardacre Mile

The Kentucky Derby winner will return from a seven-month layoff.

It was this time last year that Always Dreaming used his time on the Gulfstream Park track to tip his hand on how overwhelming he can be when he puts his best foot forward.

In his first graded stakes test April 1, the son of Bodemeister  galloped to an open-length victory in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1)—an effort so impressive it made him the betting favorite for the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), which he dutifully captured.

Instead of taking his powder-keg talent and steamrolling through the rest of the classics, however, the dark bay colt had his wheels come flying off in form, as three straight losses by a combined 37 1/4 lengths followed.

It's one thing for a horse to go off form, but the version of Always Dreaming to cross the wire ninth in the Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) in August was practically unrecognizable from the colt who about pulled exercise rider Nick Bush's arms off leading up to the first Saturday in May. So when he was diagnosed with major stomach ulcers after the Travers, there was some relief in having a possible reason behind his 180-degree turn.

With his health on track, the process of getting Always Dreaming back to his old self begins March 31 when he makes his return off a seven-month layoff against five challengers in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile Stakes (G2).

After going to the sidelines following that Travers run, Always Dreaming was turned out at WinStar Farm until rejoining trainer Todd Pletcher in December to get ready for his 4-year-old campaign. He has posted eight timed workouts since returning to the tab Jan. 29—including a bullet four-furlong move in :48.99 at Palm Beach Downs March 24—and has his seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner optimistic that the horse who gave him his second career Kentucky Derby victory has more big dances on the horizon.

"He looks awesome. He's really matured into a beautiful 4-year-old," Pletcher said. "He was always a beautiful horse to begin with, but he's really filled out and you can see he's kind of made that transition from 3 to 4 that you always like to see. He's always trained really well at Palm Beach Downs, and he's been enthusiastic about his work, but also controlled and calm. We hope we have him fit enough to perform well going a mile in a quality stake off the layoff."

Always Dreaming is two-for-two over the Gulfstream surface, having won a nine-furlong allowance race there last March prior to his shot across the bow in the Florida Derby.

When the colt finished eighth in the Preakness Stakes (G1) just two weeks after looking like a world-beater, Pletcher thought the quick turnaround may have been too much. Since his charge's stomach issues came to light, the trainer has taken extra care to make sure he doesn't ask for too much too soon.

"You always want to hopefully find something you can correct, and hopefully we were able to do that," Pletcher said. "He's had a couple of follow-up stomach scans since we've had him back in training, and he's been perfectly clean. Hopefully, that will translate into him performing up to his Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby standards."

Owned by MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St. Elias Stable, Siena Farm and West Point Thoroughbreds, Always Dreaming has four wins from nine starts with $2,344,700 in earnings.

"We're just really excited to have the Derby winner back and ready to run again," Pletcher said.

The Hardacre Mile will be a mini reunion for a couple participants from last year's Triple Crown series. In addition to Always Dreaming, multiple graded stakes winner Irish War Cry—the runner-up in the 2017 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1)—is set to make his second start of the year in the one-turn mile race.

Trained by Graham Motion, Irish War Cry had an erratic sophomore season that featured victories in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) but also four off-the-board efforts. The son of Curlin  returned to run second in the Feb. 24 Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) in his first start since September and may have the fitness edge as he seeks his first victory since that Wood Memorial effort.

Conquest Big E, a stakes winner over the Gulfstream track, enters the Hardacre Mile off a fourth-place finish in the Hal's Hope after being steadied early in the one-turn mile race. Trained by Donna Green Hurtak, the 5-year-old gelded son of Tapit  finished second behind fellow Hardacre Mile entrant Tommy Macho in the Jan. 27 Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3).

Entries: Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile S. (G2)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, March 31, 2018, Race 8

  • Grade II
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 4 yo's & up
  • 3:00 PM (local)
PPHorseJockeyWgtTrainerM/L
11Conquest Big E (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJose A. Batista119Donna Green Hurtak10/1
22Always Dreaming (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez119Todd A. Pletcher9/5
33Mr. Jordan (FL)Edgard J. Zayas121Edward Plesa, Jr.8/1
44Irish War Cry (NJ)Jose L. Ortiz119H. Graham Motion2/1
55Tommy Macho (KY)Luis Saez123Todd A. Pletcher7/2
66Page McKenney (PA)Irad Ortiz, Jr.121Mary E. Eppler8/1