By Frank Angst
A horse named Always Dreaming. A horse with New York-based owners, some who have known each other since childhood; friends who remember long, sunny summer days at Belmont Park with their fathers, impressed by the courtesy of old men saving their seats with their race programs.
A horse with a Hall of Fame jockey and future Hall of Fame trainer who have teamed to win many of North America's best races, teaming this Louisville day in pursuit of America's greatest race.
On the first Saturday in May in Louisville, dreams most assuredly come true. Of course to reach those dreams, it helps to have a fast horse. Enter Always Dreaming.
Following a tracking trip under John Velazquez, Always Dreaming took command in the stretch to score a 2 3/4-length victory in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Owned by the partnership of MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz Stable, Teresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds, Always Dreaming was sent off the 9-2 favorite off his five-length victory in the XpressBet.com Florida Derby (G1) and then made so many dreams come true in the Kentucky Derby.
The son of 2012 Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up Bodemeister improves to four wins in as many starts this season.
"I think it's even more special than the first one," trainer Todd Pletcher told NBC after he secured his second Kentucky Derby win. Pletcher had entered the race with one win from 45 starters, that victory coming in 2010 with Super Saver.
"He's an incredible horse," Velazquez told NBC Sports after the victory, his second in the Louisville classic. "We wanted to get in a position we like to have, in a comfortable position."
Always Dreaming completed the 1 1/4-mile classic in 2:03.59 on a sloppy track. He was followed home by longshots Lookin At Lee in second and Battle of Midway another 7 3/4 lengths back in third. Morning-line favorite Classic Empire, champion juvenile male of 2016 and entered off a score in the Arkansas Derby (G1), finished fourth, just edging Practical Joke. Classic Empire and McCraken bumped hard soon after the start.
L and N Racing's Lookin At Lee, by Lookin At Lucky, entered off a third in the Arkansas Derby and earned his third grade I-placing Saturday. Don Alberto Stable and WinStar Farm's Battle of Midway, a son of Smart Strike, entered off a runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Early on longshot State of Honor sailed to the lead under Jose Lezcano, completing the first quarter in :22.70 while Always Dreaming, who broke well and saved ground, raced second. Soon after State of Honor completed a half-mile in :46.53, Velazquez moved Always Dreaming to the early leader's outside and they were soon on even terms.
After Always Dreaming completed six furlongs in 1:11.12, he would be engaged in the far turn by Battle of Midway and Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) winner Irish War Cry. Asked the question, Always Dreaming had the answer, putting away Irish War Cry coming out of the turn and staying in front of Battle of Midway after reaching the quarter pole in 1:37.27 before edging away from that rival in early stretch.
In midstretch Lookin At Lee launched an inside rally, but just as his connections' hopes began to rise, Always Dreaming found one final gear to avoid any serious late threat.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby was bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners.
Always Dreaming is the fifth straight favorite to win the Derby. He returned $11.40, $7.20, and $5.80 across the board. Lookin At Lee returned $26.60 to place and $15.20 to show. Battle of Midway paid $20.80 to show.
Thunder Snow was pulled up shortly after the start of the race. An initial veterinary exam revealed no injury and he was able to walk to the backstretch.
Following Practical Joke in fifth were Tapwrit in sixth, Gunnevera, seventh; McCraken, eighth, Gormley, ninth; Irish War Cry, 10th, Hence, 11th; Untrapped, 12th; Girvin, 13th; Patch, 14th; J Boys Echo, 15th; Sonneteer, 16th; Fast and Accurate, 17th; Irap, 18th; State of Honor, 19th; and Thunder Snow did not finish.