Kentucky Derby winner ALWAYS DREAMING returning from seven-month layoff
ALWAYS DREAMING is scheduled to make a highly
anticipated comeback from a seven-month layoff in Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile (G2), a year after powering to a five-length victory in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on his way to a dominating Kentucky Derby (G1) triumph at Churchill Downs five weeks later.
"There are a lot of reasons that race makes sense with his success at Gulfstream and a mile being kind of an ideal distance to bring him back," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has clinched his unprecedented 15th consecutive Championship Meet title.
The 71st running of the Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile, a one-turn mile event for older colts and geldings, will be among seven stakes (five graded) on Saturday's 14-race program headlined by the 67th running of the $1 million Florida Derby.
||Conquest Big E
||Edward Plesa, Jr.
||Irish War Cry
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Owned by MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St. Elias Stable, Siena Farm and West Point Thoroughbreds, Always Dreaming has been sidelined by a bad case of ulcers that was discovered following a poor showing in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga Aug. 26.
After breaking his maiden by more than 11 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 25, 2017 in his third lifetime start, Always Dreaming prepped for the Florida Derby with a front-running optional claiming allowance victory at Gulfstream five weeks later. The son of Tapit proceeded to establish himself as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby with an impressive romp in the historic stakes that has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown events.
Five weeks later, Always Dreaming gave Pletcher his second Kentucky Derby win, joining Super Saver (2010), after pulling away by a comfortable 2 ½-length margin of victory. He was unable to duplicate that performance in the Preakness (G1) two weeks later after becoming in a heated pace duel that resulted in an eighth-place finish. Always Dreaming came back to finish third in the Jim Dandy (G2) and ninth in the Travers at Saratoga before heading to the sidelines.
Fully recovered from his bout with ulcers, Always Dreaming has had a series of eight workouts at Palm Beach Downs, including a half-mile in 48.99 seconds that was the fastest of 30 at the distance last Saturday.
"I feel great the way he looks. He's really matured from 3 to 4. He's filled out and looks great," Pletcher said. "He's been training well. He seems to like Palm Beach Downs. Anytime you have a Derby winner you always want them to be fit and ready to run well when you bring them back. Hopefully, we've been able to do it."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will be reunited with the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby star Saturday.
Pletcher is also set to saddle Paul Pompa Jr.'s Tommy Macho, a multiple graded-stakes winner over the Gulfstream Park track. The 6-year-old son of Macho Uno registered a half-length victory in the mile Fred Hooper (G3) Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park.
Luis Saez has the return mount aboard Tommy Macho.
Always Dreaming is expected to face a stern test in the six-horse race from multiple graded-stakes winner Irish War Cry. Isabelle de Tomaso's Irish War Cry was no match for Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished a troubled 10th. However, the 4-year-old son of Curlin also has experienced success over the Gulfstream track.
The Graham Motion-trained colt made an auspicious 2018 debut with a dazzling front-running 3 ¼-length triumph in the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Although he failed to duplicate that effort in an off-the-board finish in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Irish War Cry earned his way into the Kentucky Derby field with a 1 ½-length victory in the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.
The New Jersey-bred colt has been winless in five starts since his Wood score, but his 2019 debut at Gulfstream was promising. He finished a strong second behind Economic Model in the Feb. 24 Hal's Hope (G3) at Gulfstream.
Jose Ortiz has the return mount aboard Irish War Cry Saturday.
Adam Staple and Jalin Stable's Page McKenney, the charismatic claimer-turned-graded-stakes-winning-millionaire, is slated to seek his second straight victory during the Championship Meet Saturday. The Mary Eppler-trained 8-year-old gelding is coming off a dominating four-length victory in the Feb. 17 Old Hickory, a 1 1/16-mile starter stakes.
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return mount.
Mr. Jordan, a multiple graded-stakes winner owned by David Melin, Leon Ellman and Laurie Plesa, is scheduled to seek an elusive first win at Gulfstream Park, where the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained gelding has finished second five times in 11 starts. After finishing second behind Fear the Cowboy in the Dec. 16 Harlan's Holiday (G3) and second in the Jan. 20 Sunshine Millions Classic around two turns, the 6-year-old son of Kantharos finished fourth last time out in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) while cutting back to 6 ½ furlongs. Edgard Zayas has the return mount.
Daniel Hurtak's Conquest Big E, a stakes winner over the Gulfstream track, enters the Gulfstream Park 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, the 5-year-old gelded son of Tapit finished second behind Tommy Macho in the Fred Hooper, less than a length behind Tommy Macho. Jose Batista has the riding assignment.