Two sets of longtime friends and colleagues all sat together facing dozens of cameras and reporters on Saturday evening in Louisville. On the far left was a trainer from Texas, and to his right, a jockey from Puerto Rico. Together the two had teamed up to win over 1,600 races over the last 20 years, but this was their first time sitting next to each other on this stage, after this significant of a feat.
To the right of the jockey were two successful businessmen who were childhood friends that grew up in Brooklyn, both of whom remember attending races as kids with their fathers.
Together, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, Vinnie Viola, and Anthony Bonomo, with the help of their wives, families, friends, colleagues and fellow business partners, had just won the 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby with a colt fittingly named Always Dreaming.
“Growing up as kids, we’ve won a lot of Kentucky Derby’s, but never in reality,” Bonomo said, yielding laughter from the crowd. “But I think we just knew when we got together that something special was going to happen.”
Always Dreaming had the perfect trip, breaking from post position five with Velazquez guiding him the whole way. State of Honor, who broke just outside of Always Dreaming from the six-post, got out to the early lead, as Velazquez kept his horse close behind in second through the races’ early stages.
“Out of the gate we didn’t have any trouble,” Velazquez said. “The first step, I wasn’t too happy with. The second step I had to ask him to break. And he got into a good rhythm right away. Once I was going forward, for the first time, I was happy where I was. And so the other horse, obviously, showed some speed. So I let him go into the first turn. I eased away from him. On the back stretch, I took a hold of him. And, as soon as I got it in the back stretch, he was going really comfortable.”
Always Dreaming got a head in front of State of Honor with a half-mile left in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, and never looked back, crossing the finish line ahead 2 3/4 lengths.
For co-owners Viola and Bonomo, the dream had finally come true.
“For Anthony and I, I think we represent everybody who went to the racetrack for the first time with their Dads and were just astonished by the brilliance of these equine athletes and never fell out of love with the sport,” Viola said. “To sit up here, you have to say that we’re really still two kids at heart, who grew up in Brooklyn New York in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn who always dreamed and this was one of the dreams that came true.”
Bonomo elaborated on how the name “Always Dreaming” was conceived.
“For me, it’s just a dream and my wife picked out the greatest name,” Bonomo said. “I mean, how do you pick out a name, attach it to a horse, and this happens?”
When asked what was the inspiration for the name, Bonomo pointed to his wife and said, “you’ll have to ask her.”
When the audience looked to Mary Ellen Bonomo in her white floral Derby hat and white dress, she got choked up for a moment and had to fight back tears of joy before taking the mic.
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I just, I always daydream, I probably daydream a little too much and kind of live in Xanadu sometimes and I said, ‘why don’t we name it dreaming?’ Everybody dreams of something, whether its a big event, a special day, the birth of their child, winning the Kentucky Derby…So I just said, you know, let’s just…’Always Dreaming.’ And it just took off. And now we’ve said that when this horse has it’s first baby, we’re gonna name it ‘Keep On Dreaming.'”
It marked the second Derby victory for Pletcher, who had won with Super Saver in 2010. It was also the second Derby win for Velazquez, having won on Animal Kingdom in 2011. But to win it together, after having so much success in other races past, was something special for both of them.
“Very special,” Velazquez said. “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.”
Pletcher reflected on his stable’s history in the race before elaborating on the significance to win with Velazquez.
“You know, when you look at it now, we have been here — I think this was our 17th Derby,” Pletcher said. “To be fortunate enough to have two wins in two seconds and I think three thirds, it looked a little better. To me, it felt like I really needed that second one, you know? One more. And the first one was extra special. I have a tremendous respect for the race, tremendous respect for how difficult it is to win.”
“But I felt like we needed another one as a team to put it together,” the trainer added.
“And I felt like Johnny and I needed one together as well.”
The room erupted in applause from family members of the winning connections and reporters/media personalities alike.
“We have had a great relationship for a long time now, and we have won a lot of races together,” Pletcher said. “This one we hadn’t, and this is the one we wanted to win together. And I’m glad we could do it.”
Always Dreaming is expected to be shipped to Baltimore on Monday, where he will begin preparations for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. The 141st Preakness at Pimlico Race Course will be held Saturday, May 20, and will be broadcast live on NBC.