MeB Racing Stables, Brooklyn Boys Stables, Teresa Viola, St. Elias Stable’s and Siena Thoroughbreds’ Always Dreaming turned Kentucky Derby dreams into amazing realities on Saturday with his 2 ¾-length score in the $2 million running of the historic race held the first Saturday in May for 143 consecutive years under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
The dark bay or brown son of Bodemister provided both trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez with their second career victories each in the Run for the Roses, but it was the first win together for the pair, who have maintained one of the most successful partnerships in the game since Pletcher first became a trainer more than 20 years ago.
“This is so special to win this race with Johnny,” an emotional Pletcher said. “We’ve been together for all these years and this is sweet.
“My Derby record has been talked about a lot. When you look at it now, we’ve been here 17 years and we’ve been fortunate to have two wins, two seconds, and three thirds. I feel like I really needed that second one.”
In the field of 20 of the “last men standing” sophomores, Always Dreaming was the public’s 9-2 favorite and was good for $11.40, $7.20 and $5.80. Lookin at Lee, a 33-1 outsider, closed strongly down the lane to earn runner-up honors and paid $26.60 and $15.20, completing a $336.20 exacta, while 40-1 chance Battle of Midway crossed the wire another five lengths back in third, returning $20.80. The $2 trifecta was good for $16,594.40.
Juvenile champion Classic Empire was fourth and was followed under the wire by Practical Joke, Tapwrit, Gunnevera, McCraken, Gormley, Irish War Cry, Hence, Untrapped, Girvin, Patch, J Boys Echo, Sonneteer, Fast and Accurate, Irap and State of Honor. UAE Derby (GI) winner Thunder Snow broke awkwardly and, shortly thereafter, began to buck, his rider giving up all chance for a win and preferring to pull his mount up safely at the top of the stretch.
The break was typical of the Derby and rough for many of the runners, some bouncing off each other and having to check, but Always Dreaming broke smartly from his post position of five and was immediately sent toward the front by his Hall of Fame pilot, settling in comfortably along the rail behind the early leader State of Honor, who logged the opening half-mile in splits of :22.70 and :46.53. After stalking the frontrunner for more than a half-mile, Velazquez had enough of waiting and sent his mount for the front as State of Honor began to retreat rapidly.
The race was over from there, as Always Dreaming continued along on the front end, not under a serious ride but with winning intent on his jockey’s mind, and extended his lead past three quarters in 1:11.12 and a mile in 1:37.27. Down the lane he opened up and safely held the late chargers safe, stopping the clock in 2:03.59 on a sealed Churchill Downs main track labeled “wet-fast”.
“This is the best horse Todd [Pletcher] and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with,” Velazquez said. “Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse. I got a good position with him early and then he relaxed. When we hit the quarter pole, I asked him and he responded. He did it himself from there.”
The Kentucky Derby proved to be more than a victory in the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports for Always Dreaming’s connections. Just making the race proved to be a lesson in patience for everyone involved, from having to ship to win an allowance race earlier this year to fixing a somewhat headstrong colt’s attitude during Derby week at Churchill Downs with a rider switch and tack change. It all came together at the right time Always Dreaming, however, giving his owners — many of whom have been friends since childhood — the most coveted trophy in the sport of horse racing.
“Growing up as kids we’ve won a lot of Kentucky Derbies, but not in reality,” part-owner Anthony Bonomo, said. “We just knew when we got together something special was going to happen. It’s been a family affair.”
His partner, Vincent Viola agreed.
“We represent everybody who went to the racetrack with their dads and were astonished by these athletes and fell in love with them,” Viola explained. “We are truly kids, in our hearts, from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. We always dreamed and this is one of the dreams that came true.”
Always Dreaming, who was bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners, is a son of the grade 3-winning In Excess mare Above Perfection and is a half-brother to grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick. He was purchased for $350,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2015 by bloodstock agent Steve Young, acting on behalf of part-owner Anthony Bonomo Jr. Since then, the colt has amassed career earnings of $2,284,700 and his career line stands at 6-4-1-1. He also won the Florida Derby (GI) last month at Gulfstream Park.
Pletcher indicated that providing all is well with Always Dreaming within the next day or so, the intent is to make the second jewel of the Triple Crown — the Preakness Stakes — at Pimlico on May 20.