"This is the best horse Todd and I have ever come to the Kentucky Derby with", Velazquez said. He made jockey John Velazquez say later, "I was very happy when I started down the lane and I felt the way he was running".
Always Dreaming, who went off at 9-2 along with Irish War Cry, ran a dream race unflustered by the messy conditions caused by rains on Friday and Saturday. Battle of Midway, at 40-1, paid $20.80.
After breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay on January 25, Always Dreaming bypassed the usual next Kentucky Derby prep for Florida-based 3-year-olds - the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park - to win a non-stakes race at the same track on the same day.
"He felt OK but he was struggling with the racetrack early on".
There was a time when the post-time favorite never won the Kentucky Derby. Viola gave a piece of the horse to his friend and fellow West Point graduate Terry Finley, who runs West Point Thoroughbreds and went to Truman High School in Levittown, Bucks County.
Said Velazquez: "Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse".
As might be expected from two successful guys from the neighborhood, he and Viola reveled in Always Dreaming's win together. William Hill US reopened Always Dreaming at 13-4 odds to win the Triple Crown. When he won the Florida Derby on April 1 by a commanding five lengths, the question wasn't talent but whether he would have the experience to handle the 20-horse field and the fast pace.
"He got onto the bridle really attractive down the back straight and I was OK there until the quarter pole when I asked him to run". "I don't think going to Belmont (where Always Dreaming is based) for a week and then moving again is an advantage". The horse raced to a win and will now embark on a path toward the rare feat of trying to win the Triple Crown.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Florida Derby victor was never threatened on his way to a comfortable victory in 2:03.59 in the mud.
Velazquez, a 45-year-old native of Puerto Rico and a 2012 Racing Hall of Fame inductee, put his horse in the best possible position out of the gate, made his move early in the turn to home and ended up with a bed of roses in the winner's circle.
Classic Empire, the morning line favorite, got up for fourth despite getting nearly wiped out when the gates opened.
"We got wiped out at the start", said trainer Mark Casse. 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. "The first was extra special and I have a tremendous respect for how hard it is to win, but we needed another one as a team to put it together". The Godolphin runner started bucking shortly after the start, almost dislodging jockey Christophe Soumillon and refused to get involved in the race.