The skies cleared just in time for Derby fans to trade out their ponchos for flamboyant hats when the jockeys assumed their posts. But intermittent rains posed a muddy challenge for the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs racetrack on Saturday.
In the end though, Always Dreaming, ridden by jockey John Velazquez, was able to pull ahead of Lookin at Lucky in the slop, to win the 143rd Kentucky Derby. The Battle of Midway finished third.
The win lands the thoroughbred’s owners a $1,635,800 first-place prize from a $2 million total purse. It’s the second Derby victory for both trainer Todd Pletcher, who won with Super Saver in 2010, and for Velazquez, who won atop Animal Kingdom in 2011.
Starting from the No. 5 post position and favored at 9-2 odds, Always Dreaming broke from the pack near the far turn. The 3-year-old colt finished by a clean two and three-quarters lengths ahead of long shot Lookin At Lee, who drew the unlucky first post. In 2010, his sire, Lookin at Lucky, hadn’t been so fortunate, and was pinned to the rail, finishing sixth that day.
Always Dreaming will have to defeat enormous odds in the next couple of races to snatch the coveted Triple Crown. Next stop is the Preakness Stakes, on May 20, before the final Belmont Stakes run on June 10. In the long history of horse racing — the Derby is America’s “oldest continuously held sporting event” — only 12 horses have been able to pull off the feat. Just in 2015, American Pharoah became the most recent Triple Crown champion.