Every horse had to deal with a muddy Kentucky Derby track Saturday. Always Dreaming made it look like nothing.
The three-year-old colt galloped his way to a dominant victory in the first leg of 2017's Triple Crown chase, defeating the field at Churchill Downs by 2 ¾ lengths. Underdogs Lookin At Lee (33-1) and Battle of Midway (40-1) came in second and third place, respectively.
Always Dreaming is the fifth straight favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, a near-unprecedented streak of success in what is usually the year's most unpredictable major event. Opening as the second favorite at 5-1 on the morning line, Always Dreaming closed as the 9-2 favorite as money came pouring in on him as the weekend began.
|2017 Kentucky Derby Results/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||Robby Albarado||Dale L. Romans||--|
|16||Sonneteer||J. Keith Desormeaux||Kent J. 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|
Pun totally intended. Always Dreaming became a clear favorite thanks in part to bettors' faith he would be able to navigate inclement weather, which left the track a muddy slop-fest. Jockeyed to near-perfection by John Velazquez, Always Dreaming got to the inside early and never seemed to struggle for a single stride. He worked his way to the front of the field and then never looked back, with Lookin At Lee being the only horse within 7 ¾ lengths.
"This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with," Velazquez said, per John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times. "Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse. I got a good position early and then he relaxed. When we hit the quarter pole, I asked him and he responded. He did it himself from there."
This is the second Kentucky Derby win for Velazquez, who jockeyed 2011 champion Animal Kingdom. A two-time winner of the Belmont, Velazquez has never won a Preakness and would complete his career Triple Crown should Always Dreaming be victorious in two weeks.
Always Dreaming is also a resume booster for trainer Todd Pletcher, who got his second Derby win after years of coming up just short. Perhaps the busiest trainer in the world, Pletcher matched the all-time record for Derby entrants this year. Always Dreaming joins 2010 winner Super Saver as his only two Derby champions.
"To me, it felt like I really needed that second one, you know? One more," Pletcher said, per Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. "The first one was extra special. I have a tremendous respect for the race, tremendous respect for how difficult it is to win.
"But I felt like we needed another one as a team to put it together. And I felt like Johnny and I needed one together as well."
Pletcher acknowledged that he heard the outside criticism of his record at the Derby.
"Been taking a lot of criticism for our Derby record, so we were hoping to improve on that," Pletcher said. "That's what you do. That's what I try to inspire my kids with, that you can have challenges and you are not always going to do as well as you want, but you got to get up and work hard at it and you got to keep trying. When it doesn't work, figure out why and keep going ...
"I was hoping there was another one and thankful there was."
Always Dreaming will now have a two-week wait before racing in the Preakness. He'll look to become the third horse in four years to win each of the first two Triple Crown legs. California Chrome won the first two races before faltering at the Belmont, while American Pharoah went on take the Triple Crown.
Neither Pletcher nor Velazquez has ever won a Preakness Stakes. Given the brilliance their horse showed Saturday, though, they'll be riding a heavy favorite into Maryland.
*Race odds via the Kentucky Derby's official website.