Always Dreaming’s lack of support as the top-three-year-old male is a sad commentary from a fan base that laments horses not running enough each year and/or beyond a certain age while damning potential superstar horses when they do lose.
The conventional wisdom following this weekend’s races for top three-year-old males is that the division lacks a leader and the year-end championship (i.e. the Eclipse Award) is still very much up for grabs. I agree with the second half of the wisdom but can’t figure out why anyone does not think that Always Dreaming is the current leader.
Always Dreaming is not only his division’s lone multiple Grade 1 winner but also has the distinction of having won his division’s most important race. The Bodemeister colt also leads all three-year-old males by earnings ($2,320,600) and earnings per start ($386,767).
The biggest criticism regarding Always Dreaming has been the eggs he’s laid as the favorite in both the Preakness and Jim Dandy Stakes since running his win streak to four with a win in the Kentucky Derby. Still, he’s one of only 14 three-year-old males with multiple graded stakes wins. Only a trio of three-year-olds have won three graded stakes, and Always Dreaming beat two of those—Irap and Girvin—in the Kentucky Derby.
Based on current form and the admittedly tenuous lead Always Dreaming has on the division, it’s not difficult to envision scenarios in which he is no longer the division’s leader, but those scenarios need to involve either three Grade 1 wins against the division or multiple Grade 1 wins with at least one of them coming against older males.
My two exceptions to the above rubric would be Cloud Computing and Tapwrit. As classic winners, I could see them overtaking Always Dreaming with a win in the Travers. I.e., Preakness (or Belmont) + Travers > Florida Derby + Kentucky Derby.
This means that a Travers win, for me, would not be enough to put Classic Empire, Gormley, or Girvin (the division’s other Grade 1 winners) ahead of Always Dreaming. They’d all have two Grade 1 wins with the Kentucky Derby a sort of tiebreaker.
Another knock on Always Dreaming is that he “got lucky” in the Derby by catching a biased off track. The Kentucky Derby was certainly run on a unique surface, and he wasn’t my pick under those conditions let alone if they ran the race again on a track rated (by Churchill Downs) as fast, but that’s not how racing works. To the victor go the spoils, and he won.