There are certain achievements time cannot dull. No matter the months that march forward, Always Dreaming will always be the winner of the first leg of the Triple Crown in 2017, the outing that had his entrepreneurial owners bouncing like school kids in the mud at Churchill Downs on May 6.
Time can also be beneficial to those worn out by their successful exploits. After a freshening following his disappointing outing in the Preakness Stakes, Always Dreaming has officially gotten back to the business of trying to regain his prior brilliance.
The Todd Pletcher-conditioned winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands put in his first workout since finishing eighth in the May 20 Preakness and covered a half-mile in :49.96 on the Belmont Park training track on July 1.
Where the son of Bodemeister was extremely aggressive in his training lead up to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness — prompting Pletcher to add draw reins to the dark bay colt — Always Dreaming appeared much more settled in his first workout back and smoothly went through his paces under no urging from exercise rider Hector Ramos.
Pletcher previously stated that the July 30 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park and July 29 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course were both under consideration for his charge, although co-owner Anthony Bonomo said Saturday they are leaning toward the latter.
“I think he’s doing great after getting some time off and getting over being so tired from that demanding race [in the Preakness],” said Bonomo, who owns Always Dreaming along with fellow majority partner Vinnie Viola, as well as MeB Racing, Teresa Viola, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds. “When he works, it doesn’t even look he’s working, because he is so smooth and has such a beautiful stride. We’re thrilled that his first work back was a good one, and hopefully he’ll continue to work well and be ready for the Saratoga meet.
“Todd has made some great decisions so far, so I’m going to leave [the start] up to him, but I guess, sure, being from New York you think about [the Jim Dandy]. We just hope he continues to make progress. Sometimes, a little time can be good.”
The divisional parity that was prevalent during the prep season won out during the classics, as three different horses ended up taking the three legs of the Triple Crown. Always Dreaming is still the only 3-year-old male who has earned multiple Grade 1 wins this year. He captured the April 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby by five lengths to tout himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite he would ultimately become — and make good on.
“We’ve won two prominent races. Those are two big Grade 1 races to have under his belt,” Bonomo said. “Of course, there are a lot of good horses in this division, and that’s what makes it so interesting. I don’t think there is one horse who is overriding as, ‘wow, this horse is far and away the best,’ as we’ve seen in recent years.
“This year’s is division is still pretty open ... and for the rest of the year, they’ll continue to go after each other. But I’m still proud of Always Dreaming and what he’s accomplished this year. Having the two Grade 1 wins, I like where we are.”
Pletcher added that Always Dreaming is scheduled for three more breezes before the Jim Dandy.
Joining Always Dreaming on the Belmont workout tab Saturday was Preakness winner Cloud Computing, who continued his preparations toward a start in the Jim Dandy with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.84 on the Belmont main track. The son of Maclean’s Music has turned in three workouts since he bested champion Classic Empire by head in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“He looked very good,” said trainer Chad Brown. “He galloped out well and is still on target for the Jim Dandy. I love where we’re at with him.”
McCraken to Target Haskell
Having gotten his form back on track in his most recent start, getting over the top-level hump is next on the agenda for Janis Whitham’s homebred McCraken.
The multiple graded stakes-winning son of Ghostzapper recorded a half-mile breeze in :49 3/5 at Churchill Downs on July 1 in preparation for a probable start in the July 30 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park, trainer Ian Wilkes said.
McCraken’s Saturday drill was his first since posting a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill on June 17, an effort that halted a two-race losing skid for the colt, who was considered one of the leaders of the 3-year-old male division earlier in the year.
The desire to get McCraken a Grade 1 win on his resume is what Wilkes said ultimately has his connections leaning toward a trip to the Jersey Shore for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell rather than the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course July 29.
“I’m leaning to the Haskell right now myself,” Wilkes said. “Getting that Grade 1 is the one thing that you want, that’s one of the main reasons. There are only a couple more of them [left] for 3-year-olds and you only get so many shots.”
Wilkes said that following the Haskell, he would expect to come back with his charge in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 26 as part of his second-half push to reestablish McCraken as one of the divisional stalwarts.
“Oh definitely, I have to let him dictate and do the running, but I think he belongs there,” Wilkes said. “The whole division can still go a lot of different ways and it’s waiting for someone to take hold of it.”
McCraken was unbeaten in his first four starts, including a 1 1/2-length win in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in his seasonal bow, before running third in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. His victory in the Matt Winn improved his record to five wins from seven starts with $472,228 in earnings.