After conquering the 2017 Kentucky Derby, Always Dreaming will look to continue his march toward a Triple Crown on May 20 at the Preakness Stakes.
The weather could have made navigating Churchill Downs difficult for Always Dreaming, who ended up being the co-betting favorite with Irish War Cry at 9-2, but jockey John Velazquez got his horse inside and turned him loose down the final stretch for a 2 3/4-length victory over Lookin At Lee.
NBC Sports @NBCSports
Watch 'Always Dreaming' win the 143rd running of the @KentuckyDerby! #KentuckyDerby #DerbyDay https://t.co/GA3YppZLRY2017-5-6 23:00:59
This year's field of horses at the Kentucky Derby was supposed to be wide-open. Steve Kerch of MarketWatch.com even noted "most professional handicappers can't whittle the field down to less than a half-dozen legitimate contenders, and you can make a mild case for another half-dozen beyond that."
Always Dreaming has rapidly become the horse to watch in 2017. He wasn't an established property when this year started, aside from being the son of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes runner-up Bodemeister.
ESPN Stats & Info noted that turning three has unlocked something in Always Dreaming:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Always Dreaming wins #KentuckyDerby, becomes sixth straight horse to win with a perfect record as a 3-year-old. Was winless as 2-year-old.2017-5-6 22:58:02
The Florida Derby on April 1 was Always Dreaming's first stakes race. That was the event to put him on the map as he defeated State of Honor and Gunnevera for the prestigious title.
The Kentucky Derby offered a different kind of challenge for Always Dreaming because of the muddy track, and it was the longest race of his career at 1 1/4 miles.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said after the Derby he's expecting Always Dreaming to take part in the Preakness Stakes, per ESPN's Lane Gold:
Lane Gold @lanegold
Todd Pletcher said Always Dreaming came back to the barn in good shape and expects to go on to the @PreaknessStakes #Preakness2017-5-7 00:09:41
Velazquez had high praise for Always Dreaming after the win, per J.J. Hysell of InTheMoneyPost.com:
J.J. Hysell @trifectabox
John Velazquez: "This is the best horse Todd (Pletcher) and I have ever come to the Kentucky #Derby with." #AlwaysDreaming2017-5-7 00:38:21
Velazquez rode Animal Kingdom to the Kentucky Derby title in 2011, though that was with trainer H. Graham Motion.
The Preakness Stakes will offer a unique challenge to Always Dreaming as he looks to become the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown.The two-week turnaround time is the shortest of his career and first time he's had less than four weeks to prepare for a race.
Even though the Preakness Stakes is a shorter race, covering 1 3/16 miles, Always Dreaming's stamina will be put to the test by virtue of having just 14 days to prepare.
There's a reason the Triple Crown has been so difficult to accomplish, with American Pharoah being the only horse to pull off the feat since 1978.
Always Dreaming has done nothing to make anyone think he won't be able to pull off the Triple Crown, though the Preakness Stakes will be the most difficult run of his life.
The Belmont Stakes comes roughly three weeks after the Preakness, which does offer some respite if Always Dreaming is able to conquer the Triple Crown's second leg. It is the most difficult of the three races at 1 1/2 miles.
It takes a special horse, jockey and trainer to win the Triple Crown. Always Dreaming started this year as a face in the crowd but has clearly separated himself from the pack.
Given how new Always Dreaming still is to stakes races, there will be a slip-up at some point. The Preakness Stakes may look like his race to win right now, but when the field gets fleshed out, someone will emerge to prevent a Triple Crown in 2017.