As Godolphin’s Kentucky Derby dreams dissolved into debacle with Thunder Snow, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez finally added a mint julep-flavoured frosting to their longstanding association as they teamed up for the umpteenth time to claim the 143rd edition of America’s greatest race with convincing victor Always Dreaming.
It was over really, at the top of the stretch, when Always Dreaming took the lead in the 143rd Kentucky Derby and began his glorious run down victory lane, delighting those in the Churchill Downs crowd of 152,000 that had made him a lukewarm favorite.
Despite winning a record seven Eclipse Awards for Top Trainer and ranking as the leading purse victor in history at age 49, Pletcher is the guy who’s saddled nearly 50 horses for the Kentucky Derby and won just once.
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.
According to Churchill Downs, Pletcher’s Master Plan, who just missed qualifying for the Derby, worked 4 furlongs in:48.20 at the track on Sunday and will be pointed toward Saturday’s Grade III Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. Running out of Post 5, Always Dreaming and Velazquez hugged the rail for most of the race, and made their move on the outside turn, passing State of Honor for first at the 3/4 mile mark before going on to win by a few lengths. Lookin at Lee finished second, Battle of Midway third, Classic Empire fourth, and Practical Joke fifth.
Always Dreaming, coming off an impressive win at the Kentucky Derby, will get an early start on preparations for the May 20 Preakness. He was followed by Lookin at Lee, Battle of Midway and Classic Empire. Irish War Cry, who went off as the second choice, faded to 10th. A headstrong horse with a mind of its own.
Velazquez also rode Animal Kingdom to a win in the 2011 Derby.
Pletcher said: “I think this is even more special than the first one”.
Viola and childhood pal Anthony Bonomo are the owners of “Brooklyn Boyz,” Always Dreaming’s stable. “A lot of times it doesn’t”, Pletcher said of the strategy devised with Bonomo and Viola.
And this year, there’s big money to win: It will feature a 20-horse field competing for a $2 million total purse.
Always Dreaming is a dark bay or brown colt by Bodemeister.
Bin Suroor added: “Thunder Snow has been checked by vets and appears to be sound”.
McCraken, one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby only to finish eighth, will not run in the Preakness and is doubtful for the Belmont, trainer Ian Wilkes told Churchill Downs. Via Twitter, many fans were rooting for Patch to win the race because of his disability.
A succession of Brooklyn accents spoke loudly in the joyous aftermath of Always Dreaming’s 23/4-length victory as the favorite.
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow lost his chance when bucking after being slowly away. “I think it’ll be a quiet environment, give us time to get him settled in, and if we need to make any adjustments, we’ll have time to do that”.
“There was a lot of talk about our Derby record, so we were hoping to get another one”, said Pletcher, who had three starters on Saturday. “Thunder Snow was allowed to walk back to the barn and he did so comfortably”.