A Derby 'Dream' Come True


Always Dreaming | Coady Photo

Always Dreaming had been headstrong in his morning gallops in the lead-up to the GI Kentucky Derby, but he was all business Saturday. Installed the narrow 9-2 favorite over Irish War Cry (Curlin), the flashy Todd Pletcher trainee stalked and pounced to a powerful victory, avenging his young sire's game runner-up finish in the 2012 “Run for the Roses.” Lookin At Lee rallied along the inside from out of the clouds to be second, while fellow longshot Battle of Midway, a 'TDN Rising Star', further juiced the $16,594.40 trifecta.

Away very cleanly from the five hole, Always Dreaming hugged the fence into the first turn as State of Honor (To Honor and Serve) went on with it through hot opening splits of :22.70 and :46.53. Hall of Famer John Velazquez guided Always Dreaming to the right flank of the frontrunner as they started their run down the backside. Battle of Midway wasn't far behind in between horses, and Irish War Cry was outside of that one. Always Dreaming took over from the stopping pacesetter hitting the home bend, and a confidently ridden Irish War Cry ranged up for the heavyweight fight with Battle of Midway keeping pace in between. Irish War Cry was stuck in neutral past the quarter pole as Always Dreaming started to inch clear. Lookin At Lee emerged up the fence in midstretch, but Always Dreaming was long gone as he skipped over the wet surface effortlessly.

“This is the best horse Todd 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.”

Always Dreaming kicked off his career with Brooklyn Boyz Stables, MeB Stables and trainer Dominick Schettino. He was third on debut at Belmont last July, and was beaten a neck after looking like a winner at the Spa in August in his final try as a juvenile. Transferred to Todd Pletcher in September when longtime friends Anthony Bonomo of Brooklyn Boyz and Vincent Viola of St Elias partnered on a package of horses, he was sent to J. J. Crupi's New Castle Farm in Ocala for a freshening.

“We picked the horse up right at the beginning of September and decided, after we all talked about it, that a little freshening would be good for him,” Pletcher recalled. “So Jim Crupi who had prepared the colt as a yearling, we sent him back to him. He gave him some time off. It paid off. When he sent him back to us, he was in great form, looked fantastic. We could see right away, as soon as we were breezing him, that he had extra special talent.”

The dark bay resurfaced going an extended mile at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 25 and could not have been much more dominant as he cruised to an 11 1/2-length graduation. Controlling the most glacial of paces en route to a four-length Gulfstream optional claiming tally going nine panels Mar. 4, he took a steep jump up on everyone's speed figures (97 Beyer, -1/2 Thoro-Graph) when besting State of Honor by five lengths in Gulfstream's Apr. 1 GI Xpressbet Florida Derby.

He couldn't have been heading into Derby week much better on paper, but once he arrived in Louisville, he had gotten noticeably eager in the mornings, prompting Pletcher to switch to draw reins midway through the week.

“There were a few anxious moments earlier in the week,” Pletcher admitted. “For whatever reason, he was ready to run upon arrival. He had trained brilliantly all winter. Mr. Bonomo, Mr. Viola, and all of us had talked about a game plan a long time ago back before we decided to run him in a maiden race in Tampa. It wasn't like we were going there because we were cherry picking a spot. We were going there with a plan of, hopefully, ending up here. As you know in this business, sometimes it works out. A lot of times it doesn't. So when you kind of have a vision four or five months in advance, then it all comes together, it's especially rewarding.”

Saturday, Churchill Downs
KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY YUM! BRANDS-GI, $2,395,800, CD, 5-6, 3yo, 1 1/4m, 2:03.59, wf.
1–ALWAYS DREAMING, 126, c, 3, by Bodemeister
1st Dam: Above Perfection (GSW & GISP, $380,737), by In Excess (Ire)
2nd Dam: Something Perfect, by Somethingfabulous
3rd Dam: Happening, by Terrang
($350,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP). O-MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz,
Teresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm & West Point; B-Santa Rosa
Partners (KY); T-Todd A. Pletcher; J-John R. Velazquez.
$1,635,800. Lifetime Record: 6-4-1-1, $2,284,700.[bullet ad=”winstar-eligible-youre-a-winner”][bullet ad=”dromoland-bredbornraised”][bullet ad=”xavier-recommended-purchase”][bullet ad=”crupi-trained”][bullet ad=”kbif-derbyoaks-only-bullet”]*1/2 to Hot
Dixie Chick (Dixie Union), GISW, $343,252. Werk Nick Rating:
A. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Lookin At Lee, 126, c, 3, Lookin At Lucky–Langara Lass, by
Langfuhr. ($70,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP). O-L and N Racing LLC;
B-Ray Hanson (KY); T-Steven M. Asmussen. $400,000.[bullet ad=”two-half-sisters-owned-by-mulholland-springs”][bullet ad=”penn-sales-hanson”]3–Battle of Midway, 126, c, 3, Smart Strike–Rigoletta, by Concerto. 'TDN Rising Star' ($410,000 Ylg '15 FTSAUG). O-Don
Alberto Stable & WinStar Farm LLC; B-Thor-Bred Stables, LLC (KY); T-Jerry Hollendorfer. $200,000.[bullet ad=”gainesway-consigned-by”][bullet ad=”thorbred”][bullet ad=”lynwood-stable-graduate”]Margins: 2 3/4, 5, 1. Odds: 4.70, 33.20, 40.00.
Also Ran: Classic Empire, Practical Joke, Tapwrit, Gunnevera, McCraken, Gormley, Irish War Cry, Hence, Untrapped, Girvin, Patch, J Boys Echo, Sonneteer, Fast and Accurate, Irap, State of Honor, Thunder Snow (Ire). Scratched: Royal Mo, Master Plan. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.

The Winning Connections:

Seven-time Eclipse winner Pletcher and Hall of Famer Velazquez are a pair who need no introduction. This is the second Derby win for each as Pletcher teamed with rider Calvin Borel to take home the roses in 2010 with Super Saver (Maria's Mon) and Velazquez visited the Derby winner's circle just one year later courtesy of the Graham Motion-trained Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}). The New York-based conditioner has now saddled 48 Derby contenders with longtime go-to rider Velazquez piloting 11 of them. Pletcher has no Preakness wins to his name, but does own two GI Belmont S. trophies, scoring in 2007 with the filly Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy), who was ridden by Velazquez, and 2013 with Palace Malice (Curlin). The two-time Eclipse winning rider also has no Preakness wins, but two Belmont victories, capturing the 2012 renewal with Union Rags (Dixie Union) in addition to his 2007 success.

“[It's] very special,” said Velazquez of winning the Derby aboard a Pletcher trainee. “Todd mentioned earlier that we had won important races. But winning this one is definitely a big one. And I really think being behind me for 24 years together, something like that, a long time for him to still trust in me and give me the opportunity, it's not very often it happens in this business.”

St. Elias Stable's Vinnie Viola and wife Teresa, who races as Teresa Viola Racing Stables, have campaigned their share of top horses, including GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam's Map (Unbridled's Song) and GI Spinaway S. dead-heat winner Sweet Loretta (Tapit). Viola, who owns the NHL's Florida Panthers and is founder and chairman of Virtu Financial, was nominated as Army Secretary by President Donald Trump, but had to withdraw due to business conflicts.

Viola's childhood friend and fellow Williamsburg, Brooklyn native Anthony Bonomo started Brooklyn Boyz Stable with fellow Brooklynite Joe Harkins in 2006. Harkins later left the partnership and Viola stepped into his place. Bonomo's wife Maryellen, who named Always Dreaming, also heads MeB Racing. Anthony Bonomo is the CEO of Physicians Reciprocal Insurers.

“I've known Anthony since I was maybe nine or 10. He was maybe seven or eight,” said Viola. “And he's always been a larger-than-life champion guy. Didn't matter if it was stick ball or punch ball, he was always going to fight until he won. And there's a long story about how we reacquainted when I was a cadet at West Point and he was pitching for St. John's. I will let him tell that story at another time.”

Bonomo added, ” I just loved seeing him in that West Point uniform. He actually represented everything I wasn't. Orderly, disciplined. I wasn't. But, even when we don't speak, we do speak. And our wives and kids get along so well together. So it was pandemonium once Dreaming went–I don't even know who was on my back, who was on your back.

“But, you know, for me, it's just a dream. And my wife picked out the greatest name. How do you pick out a name, attach it to a horse and this happens? You know, it's–you can use the word 'destiny,' whatever you want to say. We have been fortunate. The rest is now up to Todd where we're going. It's amazing.

Anthony Manganaro's Siena Farm and Terry Finley's West Point Thoroughbreds bought into the horse prior to his Florida Derby romp and famed retired racing announcer Tom Durkin joined the West Point ownership group just a few weeks ago. West Point's best prior Derby finish was second with longshot Command Curve (Master Command) in the 2014 renewal.

Pedigrees Notes:

Hailing from the first crop of 2012 GI Arkansas Derby hero Bodemeister, who finished second in that year's Derby and Preakness, Always Dreaming became the first Grade I winner for that WinStar stallion with his victory in the Florida Derby. Bodemeister is the second son of Empire Maker to produce a Derby winner in the past three years, following fellow WinStar resident Pioneerof the Nile, who sired 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. In addition to their shared sire, Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile were also both campaigned by trainer Bob Baffert and Zayat Stables, who owned Pioneerof the Nile outright, but campaigned Bodemeister with Michael and Tiffany Moreno. It is also the second straight Derby win for a son of a first-crop sire on the heels of Nyquist's victory for Ashford's Uncle Mo last year.

Always Dreaming's California-bred dam Above Perfection was an exceptionally fast sprinter and posted a pair of Beyer Speed Figures north of 110–when runner-up to champion Xtra Heat (Dixieland Heat) in the 2001 GI Prioress S. (112) and when winning the GIII Las Flores H. (113) in 2002. A $610,000 purchase out of the 2002 Fasig-Tipton November sale, Above Perfection was re-offered at that auction house's November sale in 2006, selling in foal to Dixie Union for $450,000 to well-known horsemen Mike Ryan and Gerry Dilger's Santa Rosa Partners. The foal she was carrying at the time became Hot Dixie Chick, who was victorious in three of her first four starts at two in 2009, including the GI Spinaway S. Above Perfection was sent through the Fasig-Tipton November sale a final time later that year, but was bought back on a bid of $1.15 million. “TDN Rising Star” Hot Dixie Chick, who raced in the colors of Barbara Banke's Grace Stables, has since become the dam of fellow “TDN Rising Star” and SW & GSP Union Jackson (Curlin).

Consigned by Dilger's Dromoland Farm, which also sold Nyquist for $230,000 at Keeneland September, Always Dreaming summoned $350,000 from bloodstock agent Steve Young at the 2015 Keeneland September sale and his year-younger half-sister by Medaglia d'Oro sold for $485,000 just two months later as a weanling at that auction's November sale. Above Perfection produced a Pioneerof the Nile filly last April and was bred back to Honor Code, but the resulting foal passed away.

It was the third graded win of the day for the offspring of an In Excess mare following Limousine Liberal (Successful Appeal)'s win in the GII Churchill Downs S. and undefeated Sircat Sally (Surf Cat)'s victory in Santa Anita's GIII Senorita S.


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