Todd Pletcher had sent 45 horses to the post in the Kentucky Derby and had just one winner prior to Saturday's Run for the Roses.
That changed as jockey John Velazquez piloted Always Dreaming around the sloppy Churchill Downs track with expertise, and that horse got under the wire first in the 143rd Kentucky Derby.
Always Dreaming was the favorite in the race, and he raced close to the lead as the field reached the far turn, and he turned it on when he got past six furlongs.
|Kentucky Derby Payout Information (Based on $2 Bet)|
|2||1||Lookin At Lee||$26.60||$15.20|
|3||11||Battle of Midway||$20.80|
|Lee K. Howard of CBS|
NBC Sports @NBCSports
Watch 'Always Dreaming' win the 143rd running of the @KentuckyDerby! #KentuckyDerby #DerbyDay https://t.co/GA3YppZLRY2017-5-6 23:00:59
Long shot State of Honor had set a fast pace, running the first quarter in 22.70 and completing the first half-mile in 46.53.
Always Dreaming went to the post with odds of 9-2, and he became the fifth consecutive favorite to win the Kentucky Derby after long shots had gotten the best of the field for years.
The Brooklyn Boyz ownership group was thrilled in the winner's circle, proclaiming on the NBC Sports broadcast of the event that their next stop would be at the Preakness in Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
If Always Dreaming can come up with another winning effort in what should be a much smaller field in the second jewel, it would set him up for an opportunity to win the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York. Brooklyn Boyz Stables, which includes Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola as part of its ownership group, calls Elmont its home.
Always Dreaming paid $11.40 to his backers on a $2 win bet, while long shot Lookin At Lee was second and Battle of Midway finished third.
Classic Empire, who was one of the prime contenders prior to the race, was bumped hard at the start and finished fourth.
Always Dreaming had been somewhat rambunctious in his training sessions prior to Kentucky Derby week. He would rear up at times, refuse to run or gallop full out when that was not asked of him. However, after Pletcher switched to longer reins for his workouts, that was not an issue and he had a relatively calm week at Churchill Downs.
Since Always Dreaming was well-placed early in the race, Velazquez was able to avoid much of the traffic that often impacts Derby runners. He told NBC Sports that he knew he had "plenty of horse" when his horse gained the lead.
Always Dreaming has proved he can win on a wet track, a dry track, while running with the lead or coming from behind. That versatility should serve him well as he starts to prepare for the Preakness, which tends to favor those with speed throughout the race because of its tighter turns and shorter home stretch.
Official odds are not out for the Preakness, and neither is the list of official runners. It would be surprising if Classic Empire is not a part of the field.
Those two would likely be favored in the Baltimore race, and the odds on Always Dreaming are likely to be in the 5-2 or 3-1 range based on past odds for horses that have won the Derby. The likelihood of Always Dreaming winning the Triple Crown would be more like 10-1 or higher. (Both the Preakness and Triple Crown odds are estimates of the writer.)
Several horses that did not run at Churchill Downs are likely to get strong consideration for running at Pimilico May 20.
They include Senior Investment, Multiplier, Cloud Computing, Malagacy and Conquest Mo Money. Senior Investment is trained by Ken McPeek, and he won the Grade 3 Lexington while running at Keeneland, paying off his backers at 11-1, according to Preakness.com.
Senior Investment may be a strong contender in the Preakness.
While there are many factors to consider that are unknown at this point, Always Dreaming would appear to be a strong contender to take the second leg of the Triple Crown if he returns healthy.
He looked strong after the race, and his versatility will serve him well in the Preakness. The fresher horses in the race will provide a challenge, as will Classic Empire if his handlers decide to ship him to Baltimore.
There is no reason why Always Dreaming can't make it 2-of-2 in Triple Crown races at the Preakness. Look for Pletcher, Velazquez and Always Dreaming to find the winner's circle again at Pimlico Race Course.
However, unless Always Dreaming is a super horse like American Pharoah was in 2015, asking him to win the Triple Crown is too much. He could prove his doubters wrong, but the early inclination is that he will not have what it takes to win that 1 ½-mile race.
Odds courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com unless otherwise noted.