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Always Dreaming wins 2017 Kentucky Derby

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Jockey John Velazquez rode Always Dreaming to victory on a muddy Churchill Downs track Saturday. The horse was the 9/2 co-favorite to prevail ahead of the race and glided to the win after a day of rain.

Louisville, KY—Dreams turned into reality in the Bluegrass state Saturday.

From the white-hot barn of Todd Pletcher, Always Dreaming (9/2), who came in as a 5-1 morning line candidate, jumped out early on the pace, and continued a consistent stride all the way to the wire, holding off a field of 18 horses, winning the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The one-horse, Lookin’ at Lee (33/1), and the 11-horse Battle of Midway (40/1) finished second and third, respectively.  Classic Empire (7/1), who came in as the morning line favorite, finished fourth.

This marks the fifth consecutive derby in which the favorite has won.

Always Dreaming, who is an undefeated 4 for 4 in 2017, never lost the pace, breezing the mile and a quarter distance at a final time of 2:03.59, winning by two and 3/4 lengths on the muddy track.

“I got the position I wanted, and I was comfortable where I was,” said John Velazquez who now has two Kentucky Derby victories under his belt (Animal Kingdom- 2011).  “Once I got into the outside, he lasted really well, and he got into the bridle and got right back to the rail, and he was comfortable and going really well with a nice rhythm.  After that it was pretty easy.”

Pletcher, who is now 2 for 46 lifetime at the Kentucky Derby, talked about the wild ride that led up to the race, including an equipment change and an exercise rider swap just days before the big race, as his brightest stable star did not take kindly at first to the muddy conditions that plagued Churchill Downs for much of the week.

“Made a couple of equipment changes, an exercise rider change and that seemed to help; but we also felt like he was sitting on go almost to the point where our main focus was just trying to deliver it at 6:45 on Saturday and not 6:45 on Thursday,” Pletcher said.

Always Dreaming, who carries a blood line thick in Kentucky Derby winners, including Unbridled, as well as second place finishers Empire Maker and Bodemeister, came into this race fresh off of three straight wins, including the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on April 17.  

Pletcher discussed the difference between the gallop and breeze for Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby and Saturday’s race.

“My biggest concern was I wasn’t completely sure why, because the horse galloped on a daily basis exceptionally well all winter, and he was into his training, but he wasn’t rank like he was when he first got here,” Pletcher said.  “It was literally the first day you could see a difference in his personality.  He really came in here and he knew it was game time and he was ready to go, so our challenge was keeping him on the ground for 10 days.”

“He galloped twice before Johnny breezed him on Friday and we decided not to give him a day off because we wanted to hopefully calm him down off the breeze,” continued the trainer.  “The first day he was pretty good, the second day he was too strong and that is when we decided to make the equipment change, put the draw rings on him and change exercise riders.  I can tell you I was nervous watching him gallop, because he was so ready to go that if he ever built up a head of steam he was going to go.  We just wanted to keep him relaxed.”

With a bevy of connections to the three-year old Kentucky bred, co-owner Vincent Viola discussed the surreal feeling of winning the race for the roses, while sitting at the podium next to co-owner and longtime friend, Anthony Manganaro.

“Growing up as kids, we’ve won a lot of Kentucky Derby’s, but never in reality,” the elated Brooklyn, NY native said, as he looked up at the television to watch the replay of the race.  “I think we just knew when we got together that something special was going to happen.  Johnny and Todd have been great, and the horse has been super, and it has been a family affair.”

For Velazquez and Pletcher, the Kentucky Derby monkey has finally been lifted from the back of a partnership that has lasted for close to 24 years without a Derby win to share as a team.

“For all of the success that we have had in the past and winning important races, missing this one was definitely a big one,” Velazquez said.  “I really thank Todd for being behind me for what, 24 years together?  That’s a long time, and for him to trust in me and give me opportunities, it is not something that happens very much in this business.”

“I don’t feel like I’m any better of a trainer than I was an hour ago,” said Pletcher.  “I felt like another (Kentucky Derby) would solidify it though.  I’ve been taking a lot of criticism for our derby record, and I was hoping to improve on that.”

The connections of Always Dreaming will now set their eyes on Pimlico, which will host the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday, May 20. 






Always Dreaming




Lookin at Lee




Battle of Midway



$2 Exacta (5-1): $336.20

$1 Trifecta (5-1-11): $8,297.20

$1 Superfecta (5-1-11-14): $75,974.50


A waterlogged weekend at Churchill Downs dampened attendance figures, which fell to its worst number since 2014, with 158,070 in attendance.

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