Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Life&Culture | By Rose Hansen

A dream result in the Derby

A dream result in the Derby

Their record for wins as a jockey-trainer combination substantiate that definition. A headstrong horse with a mind of its own.

Always Dreaming, ridden by John Velazquez, was a dominant victor Saturday in the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs before a crowd of 158,070.

But Velazquez, who had positioned his mount to not get mud kicked in his face, settled the victor of the Florida Derby into a relaxed stride in the run down the backstretch as the pace slowed, close but not too close to the lead.

Between them, he and Velazquez were two-for-63 in the fabled race that kicks off the coveted treble completed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Entering the homestretch Always Dreaming found his stride and it was clear he wasn't going to be caught on the muddy Churchill Downs surface.

"And like we talked about it, I felt like for the first 25 starters I had to defend my Derby record".

One of the best looking horses on the grounds this past week at Churchill Downs was Royal Mo.

This is the fifth straight year a favorite or co-favorite has won the Kentucky Derby.

Classic Empire, the morning-line favorite and fourth-place finisher in the Derby, was bothered by a swollen right eye Sunday, trainer Mark Casse said, adding if the condition doesn't linger, he will strongly consider a shot at the Preakness.

The exacta (first two finishes in order) paid $336.20 for a $2 bet.

Always Dreaming provided trainer Todd Pletcher with his second career Derby win in 48 attempts. Battle of Midway finished third. The following year, Velazquez won his first Derby on Animal Kingdom.

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Sneering at Pletcher's overall Derby record of just one previous victor from 45 starters has become an ritual of pre-Derby doings for anyone so minded.

Pletcher had only won one Derby previously (from 45 runners) with Super Saver in 2010. "I felt like I was in the one hole".

Although the track was hit by torrential rain during the afternoon, the sun deigned to come out just before the off, soon after which Velazquez positioned Always Dreaming in second behind front-runner State Of Honor.

Classic Empire, the morning line favorite, got up for fourth despite getting nearly wiped out when the gates opened.

Always Dreaming had proven so hard to handle during his morning galloping sessions last week that Pletcher chose to change to a stronger exercise rider and to alter his reins to make him more controllable in the morning. The track is impossible.

With great focus, he broke Always Dreaming second out of the No. 5 post and sat just outside early pace-setter State of Honor, who went out really fast, posting an opening quarter of 22.89 for the 1¼-mile race. Few horses were hotter than Always Dreaming, having hat-ticked previously, including the Florida Derby.

"I got a good position with him early and then he relaxed", said the jockey. I don't anticipate that we'll breeze him. "He did it himself from there". Pletcher said Always Dreaming will gallop daily at Pimlico rather than a harder, timed workout.

He was fractious in the morning, refusing to relax. Johnny (Velazquez) of course rode him great.

Turns out the dark brown colt knew best.

"Anthony and I, I think, represent everybody who went to the racetrack for the first time with their dads and were just astonished by the brilliance of these athletes, these equine athletes", Viola said. "I thought we had a good shot turning for home".

Always Dreaming, owned by MeB Racing Stables, Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Stables, St. Elias Stables, Siena Farm and West Point Thoroughbreds, and bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners, cruised to win by three lengths as the 9-2 favorite, returning $11.40 for each $2 win wager.

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