The favorites have picked up the pace at the Kentucky Derby.
After years of seeing long shots come through with boxcar payoffs for their backers, favorite players won the Run for the Roses for the fifth consecutive year when Always Dreaming took the lead after six furlongs and then stormed home down the stretch to win the 143rd edition of the most famous North American horse race.
Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez teamed up for the win, and they will have a chance to go after the second leg of the Triple Crown when they ship to Baltimore to prepare for the May 20 Preakness Stakes.
Pletcher is one of the top trainers in the sport, but success in the Kentucky Derby had regularly eluded him. He had won once in his previous efforts despite saddling 45 horses that had gone to the post in the big event.
Instead of disappointment, Pletcher got the results he wanted in the race, as seen in this replay:
|2017 Kentucky Derby Result|
|1||Always Dreaming||John R. Velazquez||Todd A. Pletcher||-|
|2||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steven M. Asmussen||2 3/4|
|3||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||7 3/4|
|4||Classic Empire||Julien R. Leparoux||Mark E. Casse||8 3/4|
|5||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad C. Brown||9 1/2|
|6||Tapwrit||Jose L. Ortiz||Todd A. Pletcher||10 1/4|
|7||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||13 1/4|
|8||McCraken||Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.||Ian R. Wilkes||13 1/4|
|9||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John A. Shirreffs||14 1/4|
|10||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||H. Graham Motion||16 1/2|
|11||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steven M. Asmussen||18 1/2|
|12||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steven M. Asmussen||19 1/4|
|13||Girvin||Mike E. Smith||Joe Sharp||19 1/4|
|14||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd A. Pletcher||20 3/4|
|15||J Boys Echo||Robby Albarado||Dale L. Romans||22 3/4|
|16||Sonneteer||J. Keith Desormeaux||Kent J. Desormeaux||26|
|17||Fast And Accurate||Channing Hill||Michael J. Maker||28 1/2|
|18||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug F. O'Neill||40 1/2|
|19||State of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark E. Casse||45 1/2|
|20||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||DNF|
Much had been made of Always Dreaming's rambunctious nature that had resulted in a few problems during his career when it came to his training sessions. Always Dreaming had been known for bucking from time to time, refusing to run and also going into a full gallop when that was not asked.
Critics had pointed out this flaw, but Pletcher was not buying into it. "We were trying to deliver him at 6:45 on Saturday instead of 6:45 on Thursday morning," Pletcher said, as per Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form.
Pletcher added that his horse was the best in the 20-horse field, and he proved it in his Kentucky Derby effort. "The most important thing is to bring the best horse to the Derby, and that's what we did this week," he said.
Pletcher and Velazquez have been frequent partners over the years, and the 46-year-old jockey said that winning the Derby is a huge accomplishment.
"It’s very special," Velazquez said, per Dan Wolken of USA Today. "With all the success we've had in the past, winning important races, missing this one is definitely a big one. We've been 24 years together, something like that, and for him to still trust in me and give me an opportunity, it doesn't happen often in this business."
Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. was thrilled that Velazquez was aboard the winner.
"I didn't want him to retire without him doing it for him," Cordero said, per David Grening of the Daily Racing Form. "To me, it means a lot. I helped [Velazquez] get to the top; I've been with him for 27 years. To me, it's the greatest moment for me right now."
Classic Empire had been the morning line favorite in the race, but he was bumped heavily at the start of the race and was unable to get himself back into the race until the late stages. He put on a charge during the stretch, and he was able to pick up a fourth-place finish.
Long shots Lookin At Lee and Battle of Midway finished second and third, respectively.
From a strategic perspective, Always Dreaming stalked pacesetter State of Honor down the back stretch. Once he got to the lead, he drew off on the sloppy track to win fairly easily.
Pletcher said that he knew his horse was in good shape once Always Dreaming got to the top of the stretch.
"I think it's even more special than the first one," Pletcher told NBC, as tears were seen underneath his trademark sunglasses (via Luke Sheehan of Racing.com). "I thought we had a big shot when we turned for home."