Todd Pletcher had a bit of a problem. Widely recognized as one of horse racing's best trainers, Pletcher had a pretty big issue on his resume.
When it came to the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher was just another guy. Pletcher did have a win on his record with Super Saver in 2010, but it was just a one-of-a-kind event. The trainer had saddled 45 horses for the Derby throughout his career, and he had just the one victory to show for it.
That changed on Saturday. As the 20 horses in the field went to the post, Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez wanted their horse to get away to a relatively quick start.
He didn't have to go into the lead right away, but getting near the leaders would be an advantage because that would eliminate traffic in the race from becoming a major impediment.
|2017 Kentucky Derby Results|
|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|
Always Dreaming did that and ran comfortably as the race reached the halfway point. When the field reached the six-furlong mark, that's when Always Dreaming went for the lead.
He was challenged by Irish War Cry, but he held on to his lead and increased it during the stretch run to record a convincing victory in the 143rd Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher would have the second victory in the Run for the Roses and first with the race favorite.
"This is our 17th Derby, and we have two wins, two seconds and three thirds, so it looks a little better now," Pletcher said, per Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form. "The first win was extra special, but I felt like we needed a second one."
Velazquez and Pletcher are frequent partners in big races, and it was a huge moment for both men.
The jockey was confident in his horse's talent. "This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with," Velazquez said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "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."
Always Dreaming looked good getting to the lead, and he looked even better as he increased his margin while running down the stretch. He handled the sloppy track with relative ease, and he kept his mind on his business once he drew clear of the field.
The three-year-old colt went to the post with 9-2 odds, and the favorite was followed by two long shots. Lookin at Lee was a 33-1 shot, and he finished second. Battle of Midway finished third with odds of 40-1.
Prior to the race, it appeared that Classic Empire would be a huge threat and was possibly the best horse in the race. However, he did not have a smooth trip. Shortly after leaving the gate, he had a collision and was unable to find his stride early.
He was able to recover and ran impressively down the stretch but was only able to get up to fourth place.
While the Kentucky Derby is the most important event of the year in U.S. horse racing, the second leg of the Triple Crown is also a huge spectacle. The Preakness will be contested at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course May 20.
While the field has not been determined yet, Always Dreaming will surely be there. If he can go as well as he did in the Run for the Roses and come away with another victory, he will have a chance to join the true greats in the sport's history by winning the Triple Crown.