Storybook Kentucky Derby Ending for Always Dreaming

Racing
Always Dreaming rolled to an impressive victory in the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

LOUISVILLE – Always Dreaming does, indeed, have the stuff dreams are made of.

Athony Bonomo’s son, Anthony Jr., spent $100,000 more than was budgeted to obtain the $350,000 yearling at Keeneland’s September sale. Bonomo’s wife, MaryEllen, named him because their family always dares to dream. And trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez performed their jobs so well that the 143rdKentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands became the race the Bonomos dared to imagine.

Always Dreaming, winless through two starts as a 2-year-old but now undefeated through four races this season, shook off a sloppy surface and an overmatched field of 19 to prevail by 2 ¾ lengths against longshot Lookin At Lee on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Bonomo sat beside Vinnie Viola at the post-race news conference, boyhood pals from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y., who had come so far from their joyful yet modest backgrounds.

“Growing up as kids, we won a lot of Derbys,” Bonomo said. “But never in reality.”

This one is wonderfully real for Bonomo, an attorney, and Viola, better known as the owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers. Bonomo and Viola decided to join forces in the racing industry last year, with Viola buying into Always Dreaming, among others.

“I always thought he was a champion as a kid,” Viola said. “We always got along very well.”

Velazquez and Viola hoist the Derby trophy. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This run for the roses was very much about the strength of relationships contributing to success. In all sports, loyalties can be fleeting. Disappointments tend to divide. But the combination of Pletcher and Velazquez has endured.

Yet there had always been a “but” when fans discussed the handiwork of Pletcher and Velazquez, one both men were keenly aware of.

“We had a lot of success in the past, won a lot of important races,” Velazquez said. “But missing this one was definitely a big one.”

Velazquez’s previous Derby win had come aboard Animal Kingdom, a mount he gained in 2011 after Pletcher was forced to scratch Uncle Mo. The brilliant 2-year-old champion had developed a rare liver disorder.

Pletcher rarely shows emotion. This time he did, with tears welling beneath his sunglasses soon after Always Dreaming flashed across the finish line.

“I think this is even more special than the first one,” he said.  

Pletcher, winner of a record seven Eclipse Awards as the leading trainer in North America, had produced only one victory with 45 previous Derby starters. That came when Super Saver benefitted from a wet track and a ground-saving trip from Calvin Borel in 2010.

The hard-driving Pletcher desperately wanted a second Derby, knowing only that would quiet the critics who noted that his success in prep races typically failed to carry over to the grandest race of all.

“I’ve taken a lot of criticism for our Derby record,” Pletcher said, “so we were hoping to improve on that.”

He said he used his shortcomings in the Derby as a teaching moment for his children. “When it doesn’t work,” he said, “you have to figure out why.”

He had Always Dreaming figured out perfectly. The dark bay or brown son of Bodemeister broke sharply and patiently sat off front-running State of Honor, biding his time until Velazquez signaled that it was time to go. He blew past State of Honor entering the final turn and was on his way. A resurgent Irish War Cry menaced him briefly, but he did not have nearly enough punch.

Always Dreaming covered the mile and a quarter in 2:03.59. He returned $11.40, $7.20 and $5.80. Longshot Battle of Midway and Classic Empire, roughed up at the start, finished third and fourth, respectively.

Viola and Bonomo credited Pletcher with making all the right moves with Always Dreaming. The colt was transferred to Pletcher’s barn after he ran third and second in what would be his only two starts as a 2-year-old.

Pletcher’s recommendation was one they were not happy to hear. He urged them to send the youngster to a farm to give him time to mature.

Always Dreaming returned a very serious racehorse, romping by 11 ½ lengths in his 3-year-old debut on Jan. 25 at Tampa Bay Downs, rolling on the front end to a four-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park and then earning the points he needed to advance to Churchill Downs with a dominant five-length score in the Florida Derby on April 1.

In the end, the Derby unfolded exactly as Viola and Bonomo imagined it would as they grew up two blocks apart in Brooklyn.

2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands
May 6th, 2017

Winning Time: 2:03.59
  • Purse: $2,000,000
  • Distance: 1 1/4 Miles
  • Age: 3 yo
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Winning Time: 2:03.59
Results
Win
Place
Show
1st
5 Always Dreaming
$11.40
$7.20
$5.80
2nd
1 Lookin At Lee
$26.60
$15.20
3rd
11 Battle of Midway
$20.80
4th
14 Classic Empire
  • Owner / John C. Oxley
  • Breeder / Steven Nicholson & Brandi Nicholson
5th
19 Practical Joke
6th
16 Tapwrit
7th
10 Gunnevera
8th
15 McCraken
9th
18 Gormley
10th
17 Irish War Cry
11th
8 Hence
12th
4 Untrapped
13th
7 Girvin
  • Owner / Brad Grady
  • Breeder / Bob Austin & John Witte
14th
20 Patch
15th
13 J Boys Echo
16th
12 Sonneteer
18th
9 Irap
19th
6 State of Honor
  • Owner / Conrad Farms
  • Breeder / Manfred Conrad & Penny Conrad
20th
2 Thunder Snow (IRE)
Scratches
Payoff
Pick 3
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY P3 13-2-5
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY P3 13-2-5
$176
Pick 3
9-2-5
9-2-5
$415
Pick 4
6-9-2-5/21/22
6-9-2-5/21/22
$6,883
Pick 5
8-6-9-2-5/21/22
8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$50,063
Pick 6 Jackpot
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$85,734
Pick 6 Jackpot
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$182
Daily Double
2-5
2-5
$26
Daily Double
OAKS/DERBY DBL 13-5
OAKS/DERBY DBL 13-5
$146
Exacta
5-1
5-1
$336
Consolation Pick 3
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY 13-7-5
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY 13-7-5
$35
Future Wager
POOL 3 - 1
POOL 3 - 1
$86
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 3 - 1-24
EXACTA POOL 3 - 1-24
$835
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 1 - 24-11
EXACTA POOL 1 - 24-11
$162
Future Wager
POOL 2 - 24
POOL 2 - 24
$7
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 2 - 24-11
EXACTA POOL 2 - 24-11
$181
Future Wager
POOL 4 - 1
POOL 4 - 1
$14
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 4 - 1-24
EXACTA POOL 4 - 1-24
$19
Future Wager
POOL 1 - 24
POOL 1 - 24
$4
Superfecta
5-1-11-14
5-1-11-14
$75,975
Super High Five
5-1-11-14-19
5-1-11-14-19
$493,349
Trifecta
5-1-11
5-1-11
$16,594
Race Replay
Play
Payoff
Pick 3
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY P3 13-2-5
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY P3 13-2-5
$176
Pick 3
9-2-5
9-2-5
$415
Pick 4
6-9-2-5/21/22
6-9-2-5/21/22
$6,883
Pick 5
8-6-9-2-5/21/22
8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$50,063
Pick 6 Jackpot
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$85,734
Pick 6 Jackpot
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
2/6-8-6-9-2-5/21/22
$182
Daily Double
2-5
2-5
$26
Daily Double
OAKS/DERBY DBL 13-5
OAKS/DERBY DBL 13-5
$146
Exacta
5-1
5-1
$336
Consolation Pick 3
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY 13-7-5
OAKS/WDFRD/DERBY 13-7-5
$35
Future Wager
POOL 3 - 1
POOL 3 - 1
$86
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 3 - 1-24
EXACTA POOL 3 - 1-24
$835
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 1 - 24-11
EXACTA POOL 1 - 24-11
$162
Future Wager
POOL 2 - 24
POOL 2 - 24
$7
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 2 - 24-11
EXACTA POOL 2 - 24-11
$181
Future Wager
POOL 4 - 1
POOL 4 - 1
$14
Future Wager
EXACTA POOL 4 - 1-24
EXACTA POOL 4 - 1-24
$19
Future Wager
POOL 1 - 24
POOL 1 - 24
$4
Superfecta
5-1-11-14
5-1-11-14
$75,975
Super High Five
5-1-11-14-19
5-1-11-14-19
$493,349
Trifecta
5-1-11
5-1-11
$16,594

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