Always Dreaming got a dream trip to win Saturday's 143rd Kentucky Derby, turning for home with a full head of speed and holding off long shot Lookin At Lee by 2 3/4 lengths at the wire.
The Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby favorite raced right behind the early speed, shifted out entering the stretch turn to take the lead and brought rider John Velazquez home without a spot of mud on his silks despite a sloppy track.
Battle of Midway, second in the Santa Anita Derby, finished third and Classic Empire, last year's 2-year-old champion and winner of the Arkansas Derby, was fourth after being slammed sideways at the start. Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai, was pulled up just after the start but walked off the track under his own power.
"I wanted to make sure we got out of there running and get the position we want to have," Velazquez said. "He got into the bridle really well on the backstretch ... At the quarter pole, I thought, 'They're going to have to work hard to get him because he was really running."
Always Dreaming finished the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.59.
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who entered the Derby with one win from 45 starts, acknowledged the victory was a relief.
"There was a lot of talk about our Derby record, so we were hoping to get another one," said Pletcher, who had three starters on Saturday. "It's sweet. I thought we had a big shot when we turned for home. You could tell he was going to finish (well) then."
Pletcher did note he also had two seconds and three thirds and that Always Dreaming was the first favorite he saddled in the Run for the Roses.
Always Dreaming is a dark bay or brown colt by Bodemeister. His dam, Above Perfection, is by Irish sire In Excess. He was bred in Kentucky and is owned by a syndicate.
He took three tries to get his first win, accomplishing that on Jan. 25 at Tampa Bay Downs, then moved to Gulfstream Park where he won an allowance race against ordinary competition. He shot to Kentucky Derby prominence with a dominating, 5-lengths victory in the Florida Derby but had not raced since that event April 1.
He was rambunctious during training at Churchill Downs but obviously reserved enough for the 2 minutes that counted.