The results were nearly perfect for Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby, while morning-line favorite Classic Empire had nothing but trouble in Saturday's Run for the Roses in Louisville, Kentucky.
Always Dreaming had the strategy and the execution needed to win the Kentucky Derby, as trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez realized that the way to execute the race plan was to stay fairly close to the pace in the first part of the race and then turn it on once Always Dreaming took the lead.
The reasoning behind that was simple. The 20-horse Kentucky Derby field can be disastrous for horses that start slowly and end up getting shuffled back in the pack. While come-from-behind horses can win the Derby, it can be quite difficult to negotiate traffic when trying to advance in the field.
One of the other problems with a crowded field takes place at the start. When 20 horses leave the starting gate at the same time, contact between the horses is inevitable. In the case of Classic Empire, it was more like a collision.
|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|
Breaking from the No. 14 hole, Classic Empire took a hard hit early on, and it took jockey Julien Leparoux quite a while to get him settled. Classic Empire was able to mount a strong run during the stretch, but it took him so long to get going that his rally only enabled him to reach fourth place.
Velazquez and Always Dreaming had a relatively clean trip, and once the horse took the lead around the six-furlong mark, the jockey knew his mount was in an excellent position.
"I felt the way he was running, I said, 'They will have to run really fast to get him,'" Velazquez said, per Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com.
It was a huge victory for Pletcher, who has long been considered one of the top trainers in the sport. That success did not include the Kentucky Derby, where he had won on one previous occasion even though he had saddled 45 horses in the event.
Pletcher has now improved his batting average to 2-for-48 (he had three runners in this year's race).
Always Dreaming was in full control during the stretch run, and he won rather easily. He finished 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Lookin At Lee, and that horse finished five lengths ahead of third-place finisher Battle of Midway.
Always Dreaming won the event with a time of 2:03.59, which is a relatively slow time for a winning Derby horse. However, the field was running on a sloppy track as a result of rain on Friday and Saturday, so Always Dreaming should not be downgraded for his performance.
Always Dreaming can now set his sights on the Preakness Stakes May 20, and if he can find a way to win at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, he can set himself up for a run at the Triple Crown.
That difficult achievement would mean finding a way to take the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes three weeks later.
American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, and he was the first horse in 37 years to take all three jewels of horse racing's most elite races for three-year-olds. Prior to American Pharoah's success, Affirmed had been the last Triple Crown winner in 1978.
OddsShark reports that Always Dreaming is the 1-1 favorite to win the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Irish War Cry is the 11-2 second choice, while Classic Empire is 13-2. Other horses that are likely to run include Battle of Midway, Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Gunnevera, Malagacy and Practical Joke.
Always Dreaming is clearly a talented horse and his form in the Kentucky Derby indicates that he is at the top of his game.
He has shown through his past performances that he can win on fast or sloppy tracks, and he can also run with a fast pace or by coming from behind with a surge.
There's no reason he can't handle the Preakness and win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, assuming he trains well and continues to avoid injuries.
The Belmont Stakes is another matter. This is the test of champions, and while Always Dreaming may ultimately prove to be the best three-year-old horse in the nation, it will be difficult to come through in the Belmont Stakes if he has to compete against rested New York horses.
The Belmont Stakes will prove to be too much for him, and Always Dreaming will not win the Triple Crown.
Odds courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com unless otherwise noted.