On a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, Always Dreaming gave trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velasquez their second Kentucky Derby victories.
Always Dreaming — who entered the race as a 9-2 favorite — pulled away at the end, despite a furious closing challenge from Cory Lanerie, who rode atop the No. 1 horse, Lookin’ at Lee. Although Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby, many questioned his lack of experience in big races with fierce competition. The horse met those questions with a big victory on Saturday evening.
“Todd and I talked about (his lack of experience) a lot and we just made sure we could get out there and run and make sure we get a position we’d like to have and be comfortable,” Velasquez told NBC.
Velasquez said he knew his horse had a really good shot at winning the race when he came around the final turn.
“On the quarter pull, when he streaked down the lane, and he started running, I knew they were going to have to run really hard because he was really running,” Velasquez said.
Pletcher said he had a lot of belief in Velasquez’s ability to bring Always Dreaming home throughout the race, despite some trouble early on.
“I was a little worried down the backside. I thought a couple times he wasn’t completely in the bridle, but I could tell Johnny was riding him confidently. Just before the top of the stretch, I saw Rajiv (Maragh) on Irish War Cry take a look over his shoulder like he had a lot of horse. But when he cut the corner and I could see Johnny picked him up and you could tell he was finishing then.”
Pletcher, whose training ability has been questioned by many for winning just one of 35 entries in the Kentucky Derby, said he was quite satisfied to silence some of his critics.
“I think it’s even more special than the first (Kentucky Derby victory),” Pletcher said. “There’s been a lot of talk about our Derby record and we were hoping for another win in this one. It’s all the more sweet.”
The No. 2 horse in the race, Thunder Snow, pulled up out of the gate and withdrew nearly immediately. There were no updates on his condition immediately following the race.