Always Dreaming won the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs over a sloppy track in Louisville on Saturday, giving jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher their second career wins in the "Run for the Roses". He had just one Derby victor in 45 previous starters.
Christophe Soumillon protected his mount while defending himself and pulled Thunder Snow out of the race. The Preakness often has the smallest field of the trio of races because the two-week turnaround can be brutal, and many teams decide to give their horses rest for the longest of the races in the Belmont. His only previous Derby victor, Super Saver, finished eighth in the 2010 Preakness.
"It does mean a lot", said Velazquez, 45.
This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with.
"The first order of business is to make sure he came out of it well, and the second order of business is how can you get there and what's the best approach to getting to the Preakness", Pletcher said.
Nobody saddled more losers in the Derby than Pletcher.
For the 2017 Derby, artificial intelligence learned the same lesson that has been beating up dyed-in-the-wool handicappers for over a century: horse racing is the most unpredictable sport on the planet.
In a mediocre field, the Todd Pletcher-trained horse stood out as the Derby victor and could run away with this one with even more ease.
"I knew we had a big shot with this horse and I was hoping it would happen", an emotional Pletcher said. I think this was our 17th Derby - to have two wins, two seconds and I think three thirds, it looked a little better. "He relaxed", Velazquez said post-race.
A trip across Florida resulted in a four-length win in an allowance test and then a five-length victory in the $1 million, Grade 1 Florida Derby. "The first was extra special and I have a tremendous respect for how hard it is to win, but we needed another one as a team to put it together". "We were excited to introduce our latest round of renovations and our investments in the facility continue to pay off as we strive to improve the guest experience every year".
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. No word on if Fowler was onboard with Always Dreaming, but it would be an appropriate name for Fowler to back.
Irish War Cry, which entered the day at 6-1, placed 10th. Always Dreaming was the betting favorite on Saturday, going off at 9-2. "He really only had one race before this but we'll get them next time".
He was followed across the finish line by a pair of longshots: 33-1 Lookin At Lee and 40-1 Battle of Midway.
"We got wiped out at the start", he said. "McCraken came and almost knocked us". Classic Empire really got clobbered. Golfers are "Always Dreaming" and Fowler is still dreaming of winning that first major.
Jockey John Velazquez also won the Kentucky Derby for the second time, winning previously on Animal Kingdom in 2011.
While other horses who pressed the pace faded badly in the stretch, Always Dreaming finished with authority and heads to the Preakness in two weeks looking like a strong favorite to take that race as well.
Of the other fancied horses, Gunnevera was never a factor before a mild rally to finish seventh, one place ahead of McCraken, with Irish War Cry tenth.
Thunder Snow eased • UAE Derby victor Thunder Snow bucked out of the starting gate and immediately was pulled up by jockey Christophe Soumillon in the opening moments of the Derby.