Trainer Joe Sharp and his assistant-wife, former jockey Rosie Napravnik, had the colt swimming and using a hyperbaric chamber to make the race. A headstrong horse with a mind of his own.
"I'm so very proud of Lee", said an enthused Asmussen, who had a giant smile on his face despite the Kentucky Derby remaining the only really significant item missing on his Hall of Fame résumé.
Always Dreaming ran through a soggy track to win the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths on Saturday, giving trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez their second victories in the race but their first together.
It marked the sixth year in a row that a victor of one of the 100-point prep races emerged to win the Derby.
Between them, he and Velazquez were two-for-63 in the fabled race that kicks off the coveted treble completed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. On Saturday, they fulfilled their dream of winning it together. "We've had so much success in the past but we've never won the Derby and he's just an incredible horse".
Race officials confirmed the win for Always Dreaming minutes after he crossed the finish line first at Churchill Downs.
"Every day, I stop to think, 'My horse can win the Kentucky Derby, '" Sano said. Pletcher savoured the taste of the repeat victory afterwards and hid his emotion behind a pair of dark sunglasses.
Going into his 17th Derby, Pletcher saddled the post-time favourite for the first time.
Big payouts • Despite a victory by the favorite, Always Dreaming, there were some big payouts in the Derby exotic wagering pools.
"It didn't appear to be a gut-wrenching race", Pletcher said on Sunday. "As soon as he got on the backside he was going real comfortable".
"The victor was too good", said Ian Wilkes, who trains McCraken. "The track is impossible".
Gunnevera, who finished seventh following a rough trip, is a possibility, pending a meeting between trainer Antonio Sano and the Fountain of Youth winner's owners. Irish War Cry tried making a move while State of Honor made a run on Always Dreaming. Despite chasing a quick early pace, Always Dreaming was still full of run. "But anytime you have a 3-year-old break 1:48 April 1, it's pretty special", Pletcher said, invoking the name Alydar.
Always Dreaming did all the rest.
Revisiting his colt's dominating performance on Saturday, the trainer said that his main concern as Derby post-time approached was the weather and its influence on the condition of the race track. "We hope the Derby just builds on that". His career started with third at Belmont and a second at Saratoga.
The victory was worth $1,635,800.
The winning partners in Always Dreaming are MeB Racing Stable, Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, Elias Stable, Siena Farm LLC and West Point Thoroughbreds.
"There's no feeling like this", Vincent Viola said.
Classic Empire, the Breeders' Cup juvenile victor and Eclipse Juvenile champion, qualified second with 132 points (and over $2 million in non-restricted stakes earnings) and was the morning line favorite.
Pletcher also trains Tapwrit and Patch.
On-call veterinarian Dr Keith Latson reported: "Thunder Snow galloped back to the paddock comfortably under his own power".
With no left eye, Patch will only see the crowd as he breaks from the far outside spot in the gate. "We'll probably take a step back now and let him catch his breath a bit, regroup, and shorten his races".
Always Dreaming, who looked "super" yesterday morning, is scheduled to be shipped directly to Pimlico early tomorrow morning.
Always Dreaming, a son of 2012 Arkansas Derby victor Bodemeister and trained by Todd Pletcher, ran a 102 Beyer speed figure in the Florida Derby and was under a hand ride down the stretch. Nothing against all the others, but this was the best horse. I was very happy with the way he was running. McCraken, who was also sent off at 6-1 could fare no better than eighth.
The $2 exacta paid $336.20, the $1 trifecta was worth more than $8,000, and a $1 superfecta bet, which included fourth-place Classic Empire, returned $75,974.50. Battle of Midway, the place horse in Santa Anita's Derby, took third money in Kentucky and paid $20.80 to show. However, since 2000, only three colts who have claimed that prize have gone on to win the Derby the following season. ACVS, the American Association of Equine Practitioners On-Call practitioner, said Thunder Snow had no obvious ailments on an exam shortly after the episode.