Derby Dreams Come True

Always Dreaming Wins Kentucky Derby

Always Dreaming (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

Always Dreaming cruises to a 2 2/4 length win (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

The 143rd running of the $2 million G1 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands was won by Always Dreaming, a first crop son of Bodemeister (winner of the 2012 G1 Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner up) out of the G3 winning In Excess mare, Above Perfection and bred by the Santa Rosa Partners.

The $350,000 Keeneland Yearling Sales purchase runs in the interests of MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz Stable, Teresa Viola, St Elias Stable, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds, is trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden to victory by jockey John Velazquez.  The colt was went postward the 9-2 favourite after his five-length victory in the G1 Florida Derby in April.

In the post race press conference, Pletcher explained that Always Dreaming’s win was the result of a very carefully planned campaign, but things nearly unravelled at the last minute, as the colt proved a handful in the week leading up to the race, requiring some quick thinking from the connections.

Pletcher admitted to ‘a few anxious moments’ earlier in the week.  “I felt like we were losing ground,” said Pletcher, who opted to swap Always Dreaming’s regular work rider, Adele Bellinger for Nick Bush and added a pair of draw reins to keep the colt in hand. “Adele’s a team player, but the horse was getting too strong for her at this stage. He wasn’t perfect the first day, but we were able to get him better under control, not go out there at a two-minute clip. He was aggressive but under control.”

It did the trick.  In the post race interview, a relieved Pletcher told the media, “Mr Bonomo, Mr Viola and all of us had talked about a game plan a long time ago, back before we decided to run him in a maiden race at Tampa. It wasn’t like we were going there because we were cherry picking a spot, we were going there with a plan of hopefully ending up here. As you know in this business, sometimes it works out,a lot of times it doesn’t, so when you have a vision 4 – 5 months in advance and it all comes together, it’s especially rewarding.”

The Race

Always Dreaming (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

Always Dreaming sets sail for home (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

Always Dreaming, prominent from the start, enjoyed a flawless Derby trip.  Hugging the rail, Velazquez kept the colt just off the pace throughout, passing wide around State Of Honor and taking the lead with half a mile to go.  Battle of Midway and Irish War Cry tried to mount a challenge coming into the far turn, but Always Dreaming found an extra gear and swept to a 2 3/4-length victory ahead of late-running longshot Lookin At Lee, who rallied from well back for second. Battle of Midway finished five lengths further back in third.  Classic Empire was hampered badly at the start when Irish War Cry veered in sharply to collide with McCraken, who in turn bumped Classic Empire.  Classic Empire fell back to 13th place as the field crossed the wire the first time round and did well to rally for fourth.  Next best was Practical Joke, followed home by Tapwrit, Gunnevera, McCraken, Gormley, Irish War Cry, Hence, Untrapped, Girvin, Patch, J Boys Echo, Sonneteer, Fast and Accurate, Irap, and State of Honor, with Thunder Snow officially last although he did not complete the race.  The Godolphin runner started bucking shortly after the start, nearly dislodging jockey Christophe Soumillon and refused to get involved in the race. He was taken off the track by an outrider and examined by veterinarians in the paddock right after the race, but nothing amiss was found.

Always Dreaming ran the 1 1/4-mile classic in 2:03.59 on a sloppy track, the first off-track for a Derby since 2013.  It was the second win for both Todd Pletcher, who won it with Super Saver in 2010.  “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. The first win was extra special,” but I felt like we needed a second one,” said Pletcher.  “I don’t think I’m any better trainer right now than I was an hour ago.  I felt like another one would solidify it.”

Always Dreaming (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

Special win for the long-standing partnership (photo: Kentucky Derby/Coady Photography)

Pletcher saddled three horses for Saturday’s race – Always Dreaming, Tapwrit and the one-eyed Patch, with Always Dreaming clearly the stable elect.  Always Dreaming had his first two starts for Dominick Schettino and joined Pletcher’s barn last fall, winning all three of his starts for Pletcher, all around two turns, including the Florida Derby.  An emotional Pletcher commented, “I knew we had a big shot with this horse and I was hoping it would happen. The trip unfolded not exactly the way we had planned. We knew for sure we didn’t want to be behind a wall of horses and that turned out OK. Johnny (Velazquez) of course rode him great. This is so special to win this race with Johnny. We’ve been together for all these years and this is sweet. I’m sorry I don’t have a clue about my other two horses. I was so intense following Always Dreaming up front that I never did get a chance to pick them up.”

It was also a second Derby victory for jockey John Velazquez, who won on Animal Kingdom in 2011.  Commenting on his win, Velazquez said, “This is the best horse Todd (Pletcher) and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with. 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.”

Always Dreaming’s Kentucky Derby win takes his tally to four wins, including two G1’s, from six career starts and earnings of $2,284,700.

Always Dreaming is a fitting name for the winner of one of horse racing’s theatre of dreams and it was a dream come true for the winning partnership, some of whom haven known each other since childhood and labelled a ‘family affair’ by Anthony Bonomo.  It was Bonomo’s son, Anthony Bonomo Jr., who went over the price limit imposed by his father to secure the colt at the Keeneland September yearling sale, but his enthusiasm has been richly rewarded.  “Growing up as kids, we’ve won a lot of Kentucky Derbys, but not in reality.  We just knew when we got together something special was going to happen,” said Bonomo in the post race interview.   Co-owner Vincent Viola added, “We represent everybody who went to the racetrack with their dads and were astonished by these athletes and fell in love with them.  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.”

The connections have confirmed that Always Dreaming will be heading for the Preakness in two weeks time.


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