Always Dreaming, the 9-2 co-favorite who looked ready to take on the Kentucky Derby from the moment he arrived at the track, won the 143rd Run for the Roses Saturday in front of 158,070 fans at Churchill Downs.
One of three entrants for trainer Todd Pletcher, the Kentucky-bred took the favorite mantle almost as soon as betting opened on Friday. He paid $11.40 to win as the race-time co-favorite with Irish War Cry.
Jockey John Velazquez took Always Dreaming forward early, grabbing the lead going into the first turn before settling behind State of Honor as they entered the backstretch. He regained the lead halfway and would not relinquish it, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.
“This is the best horse Todd 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.”
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Always Dreaming became the fifth consecutive favorite to win the Derby.
“I thought we had a good shot when we turned for home,” Pletcher said immediately after the race. “I was a little worried about the backside. I thought a couple of times he wasn’t completely in the bridle, but you could tell from how he was running — confidently.”
Lookin At Lee finished second ($26.60) from the first post, ahead of Battle of Midway in third (20.80). The exacta paid $336.20. A 50 cent trifecta paid a whopping $4,148.60. The race was run on a sloppy track under partly sunny skies after periods of rain through Saturday morning and part of the afternoon.
Held by an ownership group headed by the Brooklyn Boyz Stables partnership of Anthony Bonomo and Vinnie Viola, Always Dreaming by Bodemeister out of Above Perfection was foaled on Dromoland Farm in Lexington.
“Growing up as kids we won a lot of Kentucky Derbys just never in reality,” Bonomo joked after the race. He and Viola were childhood friends growing up in Brooklyn. They reacquainted as adults and struck a stronger bond as they and their wives each developed their own racing stables. Soon the couples combined their efforts along with their families.
Bonomo’s son, Anthony Jr., broke the budget buying Always Dreaming for $350,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. His wife named the horse as ode to their lives in horse racing he said this week. When you buy a horse, you’re always dreaming, he said.
“How do you pick out a name, attach it to a horse and this happens. … It’s amazing,” Bonomo said.
The win is Pletcher’s second Derby victory. His first came in 2010 with Super Saver.
The win did not come without moments of anxiety, however. Always Dreaming’s only stakes victory before the Derby was his relatively easy win in the Florida Derby, causing some critics to question if he’d really been tested.
When Always Dreaming unloaded at Churchill, Pletcher felt the dark bay colt was too wound up too soon. He changed exercise riders on Monday and added draw reins to restrain his gallops as they prepped for the race.
“For whatever reason he was ready to run on arrival,” Pletcher said. “We felt like our main focus was getting that at 6:40 on Saturday rather than 6:30 on Thursday morning.”
The complete order of finish:
1. Always Dreaming, $11.40, $7.20, $5.80
2. Lookin At Lee, $26.60, $15.20
3. Battle of Midway, $20.80
4. Classic Empire (morning-line favorite)
5. Practical Joke
10. Irish War Cry
15. J Boys Echo
17. Fast and Accurate
19. State of Honor
20. Thunder Snow did not finish the race after breaking badly out of the gate. A post-race examination found no injury.
Remaining Triple Crown races
May 20: Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.
June 10: Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.