It was a near-perfect performance by Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby.
His smooth getaway despite the crowded field of 19 other runners was the essential part of the equation for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez.
Avoiding heavy traffic in the early going meant Always Dreaming was not going to get shuffled back in the pack, a fate that often confronts many Derby competitors.
Always Dreaming was not bothered by the sloppy track, either. He was able to dig in and get a good grip, and he stayed close to the leaders for the first six furlongs without taxing himself.
It was at that point Velazquez made his first move and secured the lead. The early leaders could not keep up with him, but he did receive a challenge from Irish War Cry. Once Velazquez sensed that rival's presence, he asked Always Dreaming for another gear.
|Kentucky Derby Payout Information|
|Always Dreaming||Always Dreaming||$11.40||$7.20||$5.80|
|Lookin At Lee||Lookin At Lee||-||$26.60||$15.20|
|Battle of Midway||Battle of Midway||-||-||$20.80|
|$2 Exacta (5-1)||$2 Exacta (5-1)||$1 Trifecta (5-1-11)||$1 Superfecta (5-1-11-14)||$2 Exacta (5-1)|
He got the response he was looking for, as Always Dreaming quickly dispatched Irish War Cry and overpowered the field. He went on to win the race by 2 ½ lengths, and there was a feeling he had more to give if needed.
It was Pletcher's second Kentucky Derby victory, and it brought the trainer a sense of relief. He had saddled 45 horses in previous Kentucky Derbys and had just the one triumph. He saddled three more this time around, and Always Dreaming brought him a much-needed win.
The trainer said he was especially glad to earn the success with Velazquez since those two have partnered for many key victories over the years.
"We have had a great relationship for a long time now, and we have won a lot of races together," Pletcher said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "This is the one we wanted to win together."
Velazquez was equally glad to share the title with Pletcher.
"This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with," Velazquez said, per the same source. "Being behind me for 24 years together, a long time for him to still trust in me and give me the opportunity, it's not very often it happens in this business."
Anthony Bonomo, part of the Always Dreaming ownership group, said that expectations were high.
"We wanted our horse to run well, but we wanted to be the one whose horse runs the most well," Bonomo said, per Tom Jicha of the Sun Sentinel. "Where we come from, we knew only one thing, to try to win. In Brooklyn, that's what it was about."
Always Dreaming was a 9-2 favorite, and he paid his backers $11.20, $7.20 and $5.80. Long shots Lookin at Lee and Battle of Midway finished second and third respectively. Lookin At Lee paid $26.60 and $15.20, while Battle of Midway paid $20.80.
|2017 Kentucky Derby Order of Finish and Purse|
|1||Always Dreaming||John R. Velazquez||Todd A. Pletcher||$1,240,000|
|2||Lookin At Lee||Corey Lanerie||Steven M. Asmussen||$400,000|
|3||Battle of Midway||Flavien Prat||Jerry Hollendorfer||$200,000|
|4||Classic Empire||Julien R. Leparoux||Mark E. Casse||$100,000|
|5||Practical Joke||Joel Rosario||Chad C. Brown||$60,000|
|6||Tapwrit||Jose L. Ortiz||Todd A. Pletcher||--|
|7||Gunnevera||Javier Castellano||Antonio Sano||--|
|8||McCraken||Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.||Ian R. Wilkes||--|
|9||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John A. Shirreffs||--|
|10||Irish War Cry||Rajiv Maragh||H. Graham Motion||--|
|11||Hence||Florent Geroux||Steven M. Asmussen||--|
|12||Untrapped||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steven M. Asmussen||--|
|13||Girvin||Mike E. Smith||Joe Sharp||--|
|14||Patch||Tyler Gaffalione||Todd A. Pletcher||--|
|15||J Boys Echo||Luis Saez||Dale L. Romans||--|
|16||Sonneteer||Kent J. Desormeaux||J. Keith Desormeaux||--|
|17||Fast And Accurate||Channing Hill||Michael J. Maker||--|
|18||Irap||Mario Gutierrez||Doug F. O'Neill||--|
|19||State Of Honor||Jose Lezcano||Mark E. Casse||--|
|20||Thunder Snow||Christophe Soumillon||Saeed bin Suroor||DNF|
Always Dreaming earned $1,240,000 for the win, while Lookin At Lee paid his owners $400,000. Battle of Midway's payoff for his third-place finish was $200,000. Classic Empire rallied for fourth place to win $100,000, and Practical Joke finished fifth and took home $60,000.
With a win in the Run for the Roses, Always Dreaming is the only three-year-old who has a chance to win the Triple Crown. The next step is to go to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 20 and win the Preakness Stakes.
The field will be smaller and the turns tighter, and Always Dreaming should have an excellent chance. He is the even-money favorite to win the Preakness, according to OddsShark.
Irish War Cry is the second choice in the event, at 11-2. Classic Empire is the third choice, at 13-2.
If Always Dreaming is successful in that race, Pletcher can attempt to get him ready for the Belmont Stakes. That grueling 1 ½-mile race is known to test a competitor's endurance and championship mettle because of its length and the grind of the two previous Triple Crown races.