Always Dreaming, ridden by John Velazquez, has won the 143rd Kentucky Derby on a day when the track was muddy.
Always Dreaming pulled away from Lookin at Lee in the slop to give trainer Todd Pletcher his second Derby victory at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher and Velazquez have teamed up often over the years and are the sport’s leading money winners. On their own, they were a combined 2 for 63 coming into America’s greatest race.
Together, they were unbeatable on a cool and rainy Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Sent off at 9-2 odds, Always Dreaming made it the fifth straight year that a Derby favorite has won, the longest such stretch since the 1970s.
Always Dreaming was followed across the finish line Saturday by a pair of longshots: 33-1 Lookin At Lee and 40-1 Battle of Midway.
Always Dreaming ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:03.59 and paid $11.40, $7.20 and $5.80.
This year’s race for the nation’s top 3-year-old horses featured no clear favorite.
Classic Empire was the lukewarm 4-1 favorite. Two horses, Always Dreaming and McCraken, were the co-second choices at 5-1.
The race attracted a crowd of 167,000 last year. Despite the weather, this year’s crowd was also large.
With no left eye, Patch will only see the crowd as he breaks from the far outside spot in the gate. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione figures to hustle him over to the rail to save ground as the field makes its way to the traffic-choked first turn.
Steve Asmussen also has three runners, and they’re all longshots: 15-1 Hence, 20-1 Lookin at Lee, and 30-1 Untrapped. He is winless in 15 tries, the only hole in his Hall of Fame resume.
“The Kentucky Derby would look really good to add to the list,” he said.
Don’t look for four-time winner Bob Baffert. The white-haired trainer doesn’t have a horse this year, but like everyone else, he has an opinion.
“There’s a lot of parity. There are some nice, solid horses,” he said. “I think Classic Empire is probably the best horse in the race. Todd’s horse has brilliance, Always Dreaming. If they can get him figured out, he could steal it. The rest are bombers.”
Favorites have won the Derby the past four years, the longest such streak since the 1970s.
Classic Empire sure looked like the early Derby favorite last year when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named 2-year-old champion. He made his 3-year-old debut with a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes in February. Then came two more months off caused by hoof and back injuries. Twice, the bay colt didn’t want to train.
“We’re happy to be where we are today given the last couple of months,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I love being the favorite. Let’s just enjoy the ride.”
Always Dreaming had been fractious in morning workouts leading up to the Derby. In an effort to harness the colt’s energy, Pletcher switched to longer reins, and Always Dreaming resisted. He has since calmed down and John Velazquez will be in the saddle Saturday to lend an experienced hand.
Girvin has battled a quarter crack in his right front hoof that limited his workouts. Trainer Joe Sharp and his assistant-wife, former jockey Rosie Napravnik, had the colt swimming and using a hyperbaric chamber to make the race.
Gunnevera’s trainer, Antonio Sano, was kidnapped twice in his native Venezuela before relocating his family to Miami. Jockey Javier Castellano, also from the violence-wracked nation, is trying to snap an 0 for 10 skid in the Derby. Gunnevera is the cheapest horse in the field. He was bought for $16,000 at auction.
“Every day, I stop to think, `My horse can win the Kentucky Derby,”‘ Sano said. “It would be a big gift for the people of Venezuela at this moment. In Venezuela, people are killing people. People have no food. Very sad.”
Thunder Snow carries the hopes of Godolphin Racing, which is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He’s the ruler of Dubai. The stable is winless in nine previous Derby attempts.
“There’s plenty of speed lined up for this race and nobody’s going to get an easy lead,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Battle of Midway.