• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Always Dreaming wins 143rd Kentucky Derby

Abel Tasman rallies from last to first to win the Kentucky Oaks

ALWAYS DREAMING, with John Velazquez riding, won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6, at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Matt Wooley/EquiSport.photos)

The first Saturday of May was a day of on-again, off-again rain. However, when post time at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the $2,395,800 Kentucky Derby arrived, the sun was shining and the 158,070 in attendance were getting excited to see the race begin. While the track was muddy, though it was officially listed as fast (sealed), it was still a sloppy mess as the 20 horses broke from the gate. A little over two minutes later, many of the pre-race favorites had passed by the wayside, while race-day favorite, Always Dreaming, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez riding, crossed the finish line a 2-3/4-length winner. Finishing second was Lookin At Lee, with Corey Lanerie riding, while five lengths behind them in third was Battle of Midway, ridden by Flavien Prat. “This is the best horse (trainer) Todd (Pletcher) and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with,” said Velazquez. “Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse. I got a good position with him early and then he relaxed. When we hit the quarter pole, I asked him and he responded. He did it himself from there.” Added Pletcher, “I knew we had a big shot with this horse and I was hoping it would happen. The trip unfolded not exactly the way we planned. We knew for sure we didn’t want to be behind a wall of horses and that turned out okay. Johnny (Velazquez) of course rode him great. This is so special to win this race with Johnny. We’ve been together for all these years and this is sweet.” Owned by MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St. Elias, Siena Farm and West Point, Always Dreaming ran the 1-1/4-mile race in 2:03.59. In the race, Always Dreaming broke from post position five and Velazquez guided him towards the front where he stalked early race leader, State of Honor. Behind him, Classic Empire, who is owned by Midway’s John Oxley and was the early-morning line favorite, broke from post position 14, and was almost immediately bumped hard by McCracken, who broke from the auxiliary gate’s post position 15 and immediately came in on Classic Empire at the start, which pretty much ended either horse’s chances of winning. Still, Classic Empire did not give up, fought hard and finished fourth. “We got wiped out at the start,” said Classic Empire’s trainer Mark Casse). “That’s the problem with the auxiliary gate. McCracken came and nearly knocked us. Classic Empire really got clobbered. The track is impossible. Our horse ran extremely well, considering.” Always Dreaming took a slim lead around the half-mile mark, and as the horses reached the top of the stretch, he opened it up to a half-length lead. As the horses came down the stretch, Always Dreaming broke clear and opened up a three-length lead as he neared the finish line. Behind him, Lookin At Lee rallied from the back of the pack and was coming on, but could not catch the leader, while Battle of Midway, who had stayed close to the front all race long, also tried to reach the front, but wasn’t able to get there either. Behind those three was McCracken, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 8, who was coming on strong four-wide down the stretch under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., and it appeared with the speed he was carrying that he might just get near the front to finish somewhere in the money. However, around mid stretch, Practical Joke, ridden by Joel Rosario on the inside, moved hard to the outside and bumped into McCracken, which slowed McCracken down and seemed to take the fight out of him. Practical Joke fought on and eventually finished fifth, while McCracken ended up eighth. In the end, it was Always Dreaming’s day, as he crossed the wire 2-1/4 lengths ahead of his nearest competitor, Lookin At Lee, in second, and Battle of Midway in third. Rounding out the field was Classic Empire, followed in order by Practical Joke, Tapwrit, Gunnevera, McCracken, Gormley, Irish War Cry, Hence, Untrapped, Girvin, Path, J Boys Echo, Sonneteer, Fast an Accurate, Irap, State of Honor and Thunder Snow, who broke from the gate last bucking like crazy, and his jockey, Christophe Soumillon, pulled him up. He was checked out by the equine vet and was found not to be injured and he walked back to the barn. This was the second Kentucky Derby win for both Pletcher and Velazquez. In 2010, Pletcher got his first Derby win with Super Saver, who was ridden by Calvin Borel, while Velazquez’s first Derby win was on Animal Kingdom with trainer Graham Motion in 2011. However, for all of the wins over the years for Pletcher and Velazquez, they never won a Derby together – until this year. “I felt like Johnny and I needed one (Derby) together as well,” said Pletcher in a May 6 BloodHorse.com article. “We have had a great relationship for a long time now, and we have won a lot of races together. This one we hadn’t, and this is the one we wanted to win together. And, I’m glad we could do it.” With the win, Always Dreaming, who is by Bodemeister-Above Perfection, by In Excess (Ire.), now has four wins, one second, one third and $2,284,790 in earnings in six career starts. Bodemeister stands at WinStar Farm near Versailles. While Saturday had some sunshine, the day before, Friday, May 5, was cold and rainy most of the day for the running of the 143rd $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1). But the bad weather did not stop 105,100 fans from coming out to watch the race. In the 14-horse race, Abel Tasman, who was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, did not let the sloppy track bother her at all, as she rallied from near the back of the field in the stretch, charged to the lead, and won by 1-1/4 lengths over Daddys Lil Darling. Lockdown was third.

ABEL TASMAN, with Mike Smith riding, won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, May 5, at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Matt Wooley/EquiSport.photos)

Abel Tasman, who is by Quality Road-Vargas Girl, by Deputy Minister, ran the 1-1/8th-mile race in 1:51.62. Quality Road stands at Lane’s End Farm near Versailles. Owned by the China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, and trained by Bob Baffert, Abel Tasman now has four wins, two seconds and $912,060 in earnings in seven career starts. For Baffert, it was his third Oaks victory. He also won in 1999 with Silverbulletday and in 2011 with Plum Pretty. For Smith, it was his second Oaks win. He previously won it in 2013 with Princess of Sylmar. (Information courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com, BloodHorse.com, PaulickReport.com, PedigreeQuery.com and Brisnet.com.)

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