Always Dreaming wins 143rd Kentucky Derby

Always Dreaming wins 143rd Kentucky Derby

John Velazquez (light green shirt) aboard Always Dreaming leads the field to the final stretch and wins the 2017 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville Saturday. — Reuters

LOS ANGELES — Always Dreaming won the 143rd Kentucky Derby Saturday, pulling away in the final straight on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in Louisville to claim the first jewel in US flat racing’s Triple Crown.

The triumph gave both jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher a second Kentucky Derby victory, but their first together.

Pletcher saddled 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, while Velazquez was aboard 2011 winner Animal Kingdom.

“It means a lot,” Velazquez said of winning with Pletcher, the trainer he has teamed with so successfully over the years.

“We have so much success in the past and we haven’t won the Derby (together). Finally we got it together with this Horse — incredible Horse.”

Lookin at Lee finished second from the first post with Battle of Midway third. “It’s even more sweet this time,” said Pletcher, whose three runners in this year’s Derby took his total of entrants in the Run for the Roses over his career to 48.

Between them, he and Velazquez were two-for-63 in the fabled race that kicks off the coveted treble completed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Under Velazquez, he broke well from the fifth post and was always near the front. State of Honor set the early pace, with Battle of Midway and Irish War Cry near the lead.

Always Dreaming hit the front going into the final turn. He withstood a challenge from Irish War Cry before pulling away in the straight to leave the late charging Lookin At Lee, a 33-1 shot trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Corey Lanerie, to finish second 2 3/4 lengths behind.

Battle of Midway, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and riden by Flavien Prat, held on for third at 40-1.

Pletcher also noticed Irish War Cry’s jockey Rajiv Maragh peek under his shoulder as they headed into the stretch “like he thought he had a lot of Horse”.

Classic Empire, winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the morning line favorite, was jostled at the start. He raced wide in the middle of the 20-Horse field down the backstretch and rallied to finish fourth. Irish War Cry, a co-favorite, faded to finish 10th.

It was yet another Kentucky Derby disappointment for the Godolphin stables of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum as their UAE Derby winner, Thunder Snow, broke awkwardly from the gate and was pulled up by Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon.

An initial examination indicated no serious injury to the Horse. — AFP