Kentucky Derby 143 a dream set-up for Always Dreaming
by DICK POWELL
Kentucky Derby (G1) 143 is in the book and some quick impressions:
Johnny Velazquez won this year’s Run for the Roses right from the start. He broke ALWAYS DREAMING (Bodemeister) like a shot from the gate, tightened up FAST AND ACCURATE (Hansen) to his inside, allowed STATE OF HONOR (To Honor and Serve) to take the lead and then was able to get to his outside. He stalked that one to the top of the stretch and when the outside pressure came, he pulled away willingly.
I thought the Florida Derby (G1) was the result of a speed horse winning on a speed track, but what happens five weeks later on the First Saturday of May if the same speed horse gets another speed track? If this year’s Derby were run on Friday, Always Dreaming would have won since the track was heavily skewed to inside speed. For much of Saturday, it looked like the wet main track was playing fair and when LIMOUSINE LIBERAL (Successful Appeal) was able to stalk three wide and hold to win the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2), I didn’t feel there was any bias.
But, the final rain shower that hit between race 10 and 12 forced the track condition to be downgraded to “Sloppy” and it went back to a strong inside bias.
Like all races, regardless of the distance, the start of the race was crucial. Many of the bad trips came from the start. Rajiv Maragh broke IRISH WAR CRY (Curlin) to the left out of the gate from post 17 and caused a chain reaction that CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pioneerof the Nile) had to be severely checked. His race was lost and Always Dreaming’s was won when he outbroke all the other speed horses.
We say it every year and it still amazes us every year but despite the enormous amount of money bet into the win pool, the early betting line holds up all day. Always Dreaming was the favorite throughout the day and held on to go off as the post time 47 to 10 favorite over 48 to 10 Irish War Cry. Classic Empire and MCCRAKEN (Ghostzapper) were relatively cold on the board all day.
I have always said that Christophe Soumillon is one of the world’s greatest jockeys. He showed it on Saturday when he stayed aboard THUNDER SNOW (Helmet), who bucked and reared right out of the gate. Can you imagine if Soumillon came off and Thunder Snow was running loose? What if he turned around and went the other way? What if he jumped the outer rail into the crowd? I shudder to think of the consequences but Soumillon’s unbelievable horsemanship averted a potential disaster.
So Always Dreaming wins the Florida Derby and is the second choice on the morning line. Not a big surprise. What was a big surprise was how NBC’s coverage never even profiled his main owners; Vinnie Viola and Anthony Bonomo! Four hours of useless interviews and we knew nothing about them until after the race when they turned out to be quite gracious and colorful in the winner’s circle. All week, Bonomo was interviewed by almost every media outlet but NBC chose to ignore him and Viola. Very strange.
Also, loved not showing the horses loading into the starting gate but two different shots showing Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse looking up at the television. And, what were they looking at? The horses loading into the gate! It was a very quick load for the 20 horses but NBC made sure we got to see people watching what we were not able to watch.
At the start, instead of the head-on shot of the starting gates, they went to a moving overhead shot that made it hard to see the chain reaction that took Classic Empire out of the race. With bright sun and shadows from the two main buildings of Churchill Downs, the race went dark twice but then for no reason going down the backstretch, without any shadows interfering, the NBC cameras made it look like it was 8:30 at night instead of 6:30. I know there was glare from the sloppy track but it made an always difficult race to watch even harder.
The big star of NBC’s coverage was Mike Tirico. I thought he was fantastic and even though he is not a racing guy, he never falsely portrayed himself as one and used the talent around him to do their jobs.
I liked the piece on the four living announcers that have called the Kentucky Derby. Larry Collmus admitted that he was afraid that he would call Hence – Pence and Patch – Hatch. Sure enough on the clubhouse turn, he called Patch – Pence. They all talked about the challenge of doing races all day and then have a 20-runner field to get through.
After the race, trainer Graham Motion said that he didn’t think Irish War Cry wanted to get the distance and I was shocked by his statement. He handled nine furlongs with ease in the Wood Memorial and his pedigree should not have been a problem. Stalking the pace four wide and then three wide, it still looked like Rajiv Maragh had a ton of horse underneath him but when asked for run at the top of the stretch, Irish War Cry had nothing. He will now point for the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park which is named after the owner’s father.
Did not think Always Dreaming could come off two average efforts, then run huge in Florida and go on to Kentucky and run big again. But he did and now the question is how does he come back two weeks later for another big effort?
Joel Rosario gave PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief) a fantastic ride and was able to make it to the inside from post 19. He came up empty as the distance was too far for him but Rosario gave him every chance.