When it came time to name the talented young colt that the Brooklyn Boyz Stables had purchased for $350,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Mary Ellen Bonomo had an idea.
“I just always daydreamed — I probably daydream a little too much,” she said Saturday. “I kind of live in Xanadu sometimes. And I said, ‘Why don’t we just name it Dreaming?’ Everybody dreams of something whether it’s a big event or special day, the birth of their child, winning the Kentucky Derby. So I just said, Always Dreaming. It just took off.”
And before a crowd of 158,070 at Churchill Downs, Always Dreaming took off, winning the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths in a time of 2:03.59 over a sloppy track.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Always Dreaming is actually owned by a large partnership that includes minority owners Siena Farm of Paris and West Point Thoroughbreds, which bought a share of the son of Bodemeister before his impressive 5-length win in the Florida Derby on April 1.
But New York natives Anthony Bonomo and Vincent Viola are the majority owners. Viola also owns the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers. Bonomo ran one of New York’s largest medical practice insurers. He served as chairman of the board of the New York Racing Association before taking a leave of absence after being allegedly implicated in a political corruption scandal.
The two are friends from their childhood days back in Brooklyn when they would go to the track. Viola said he got hooked on horse racing by his father, who would take him to Aqueduct and teach him the ins and outs of the sport.
“My dad handicapped and bet, quite frankly, every day of his life,” said Viola in a joyous postrace press conference. “I remember so distinctly the crowds, Saturday afternoon crowds. And I remember distinctly that the men would respect each other because they would fold their newspapers and put them in the seams of the seat. As a young man, I thought, wow, that’s really cool.”
Though he would sometimes tag along with Viola, Bonomo became hooked after marrying Mary Ellen, whose father was a fan of the racetrack.
“Her dad, who, unfortunately, isn’t here anymore, but he loved racing and just loved being at the barn,” said Bonomo, who at one point had to wipe back tears. “So to a large degree he was here today. I think they were all riding that horse with Johnny (Velazquez, the jockey).”
After starting small, Brooklyn Boyz has grown to a stable that has reached 60 horses. The group won the 2015 Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds with Greenpointcrusader, who was knocked off the Derby trail by injury.
Last September, the partners bought Always Dreaming when Bonomo’s son, Anthony Jr., went beyond the bidding price the partnership had authorized.
“I really, really love (him) now,” said Bonomo.
“To sit up here, we have to say, really, we are two kids still in our heart from Brooklyn, New York, Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, who always dreamed,” Viola said. “And this is one of the dreams to come true.”
Thus, Always Dreaming.
“Now,” said Mary Ellen Bonomo, “when this horse has its first baby, we will name it Keep on Dreaming.”