Still Dreaming After All

You know it's been a tough time in Thoroughbred racing when the best news heard all week is that a big-name horse has been suffering from stomach ulcers. With the tragic and unexpected deaths of Effinex and Irap and the retirement of last year's 2-year-old champion Classic Empire, racing needed some good news as we approach the Breeders' Cup.

Ulcers, good news? Most definitely when it not only provided an explanation for Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming's abrupt form reversal, it virtually plucked him out of retirement and put him on the path for a 4-year-old campaign.

In danger of becoming a Derby bust and one of the most forgotten classic winners in years, Always Dreaming and his ulcers have now provided a ray of hope that the Derby form was indeed legitimate and that we have an exciting and brilliant horse to look forward to next year; the same exciting and brilliant horse who dominated his opponents in the Florida Derby and the Run for the Roses. 

It turned out to be a good thing that WinStar Farm put off issuing an official retirement release. We waited and waited for the release that was inevitable. WinStar is always looking to build on their already extensive stallion roster, but this was one horse they were in no hurry to add, especially after such an ignominious final three races, in which he was a total bust in the Preakness and Travers Stakes and blew an easy uncontested lead in the Jim Dandy Stakes. But then came the results of the tests taken by Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood & Riddle that stamped him perfectly sound and healthy except for the presence of some of the nastiest ulcers Dr. Steve Reed of Rood & Riddle has ever seen.

Just like that, the Preakness, Jim Dandy, and Travers slate was pretty much wiped clean, as if it never happened. Now, the last people will remember of Always Dreaming was him skipping through the slop and crushing his Kentucky Derby opponents. With Gunnevera heading to the Breeders' Cup Classic following his fast-closing second in the Travers Stakes at 24-1, racing fans will again take notice of the Florida Derby when Always Dreaming left him 6 1/2 lengths behind in his impressive five-length romp, run in a razor-sharp 1:47 2/5. He then crushed Gunnevera by 13 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby. Those are the races we will take into 2018 as we await the 4-year-old debut of Always Dreaming with great anticipation.

That means we also get a second dose of the colt's colorful owners, headed by the Brooklyn boys Anthony Bonomo and Vinnie Viola, along with Anthony Manganaro and West Point Thoroughbreds' Terry Finley, with a touch of Tom Durkin thrown in for additional color.

We now have the distinct possibility of an Always Dreaming--West Coast rivalry to look forward to, as the latter is expected to return next year. Or in other words, an East Coast--West Coast rivalry or a first half of the year vs. second half of the year rivalry or, as of right now, a Kentucky Derby--Travers winners rivalry. Pick whichever you find most enticing.

But the important part is that we have the Kentucky Derby winner to look forward to as a 4-year-old, something you rarely see anymore. If it takes ulcers to get that accomplished, as well as a reputation restoration, so be it.

"I'm very excited about his return," Bonomo said. "We found out about the ulcers after the Travers when we sent him to WinStar Farm and had a full workup done. Of course, now we know why his Travers performance was not what was expected of him. I'm encouraged by his demeanor and his looks now. WinStar has done an outstanding job with him and I hope his return will be equal to his earlier races."

This is like getting a second chance and resurrecting what looked to be an outstanding career.

"It's tough to see a horse like that retire when you think there's so much left in the tank," Bonomo said. "I believe racing and his fans deserve to see him again. It's good for the sport."

Elliott Walden president and CEO of WinStar added, "It also explains a lot about his regression in form, and we are extremely excited about his racing potential in 2018. The sky is the limit."

Following a scope of his stomach in the next several weeks, he should return to light training at WinStar around November 1, eventually shipping to Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs.

So you can make up your own mind to what degree the ulcers affected Always Dreaming's performance in the Preakness Stakes and even in the Jim Dandy, although he didn't run that poorly in the latter.

The logical conclusion is that horses, especially a Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby winner, as talented and brilliant as Always Dreaming do not go off form that dramatically and that quickly. Considering his impending ailment, perhaps the colt, who was fairly lightly raced when he ran at Churchill Downs, was affected by the stress of having to come back in two weeks following the Derby. Again, it is all speculation, but the fact is, after witnessing his impressive victories this spring, his Preakness simply was too bad to be true.

But that is in the past. It is time to look ahead. For the colt's connections, who at one time had to be extremely bewildered and frustrated by the turn of events, the dream continues. And for the rest of us, all that matters is that the Derby winner is back.

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