CRAWFORD | Living the Dream: Owners of Derby winner Always Dream - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Living the Dream: Owners of Derby winner Always Dreaming prove dreams do come true

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Anthony Bonomo, co-owner of Always Dreaming, hoists the winning trophy after the colt won the Kentucky Derby. (AP photo) Anthony Bonomo, co-owner of Always Dreaming, hoists the winning trophy after the colt won the Kentucky Derby. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After his colt, Always Dreaming, charged to the biggest victory margin in the Kentucky Derby since 2011, beating longshot Lookin At Lee by 2 ¾ lengths and Battle of Midway by better than seven, co-owner Anthony Bonomo couldn’t stop looking at the television monitors during the post-race news conference.

He felt like he was watching a dream.

You might not believe this, but I can testify to it: The race Bonomo watched was the race he described the previous morning, under a steady rain at Churchill Downs in the backside media center, in his thick Brooklyn accent.

He said his horse would break quickly, move to the lead, and stay there. He said when the horses moved to challenge him in the stretch, jockey John Velazquez would ask him for another gear.

“He wins by 2-3 (lengths),” Bonomo said. “More if he’s really good, and the track is right.”

From his mouth to the ears of 158,040 in attendance at Churchill Downs for Saturday’s 143rd running of the Derby. All week analysts talked about Always Dreaming being too eager, too aggressive in training.

“What they said was acting up, I saw as fired up,” Bonomo said.

Bonomo and lifelong friend Vincent Viola, the billionaire owner of the Florida Panthers National Hockey League team and President Donald Trump’s original nominee to be Secretary of the Army, joined their racing operations to form Brooklyn Boyz Stable, along with their wives.

After winning the Kentucky Derby, they shared more emotion than one room could contain. Viola is a military man, West Point graduate, and business mastermind. Bonomo is a New York attorney, street smart and quick witted.

“I thought he was everything I wasn’t,” Bonomo said of Viola. "He's an outstanding individual. He's a successful businessman, but it pales in comparison to the man he is and what he's done. He's given up years of his life to defend this country, so I could be standing here. You have to appreciate that with all the troops."

“He’s always been a champion kind of person,” Viola said of Bonomo. “Bigger than life. . . . We can finish each other's sentences. I've known him his whole life. . . . We come from the same value system. We have the same competitive spirit. I think Anthony brings a little more athletic acumen. You don't become a scratch golfer growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You don't pitch for St. John's on the same staff as Frank Viola and John Franco. You've got to be a real champion.”

These guys fell in love with horse racing at Aqueduct and Belmont as children.

“Anthony and I, I think, 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,” Viola said. “And never fell out of love with the sport. And we have to say, really, we are two kids, still, in our hearts, from Brooklyn, N.Y., Williamsburg section, who always dreamed.”

And like another kid from the area -- from the other side of the Holland tunnel in Hoboken, N.J. -- used to sing: "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart."

For Bonomo, the colt truly was a family effort. His son bought the horse. His son’s name?

“It’s Anthony,” Bonomo said. “You know us Italians. We just name our kids after ourselves. You call one name and everybody comes to dinner.”

Anthony gave his son a spending limit. Anthony Jr. blew through it, by a considerable margin, to purchase the son of Bodemeister at the 2015 September Keeneland Yearling Sale for $350,000.

“I was on the phone with him,” the father said. “Boy, I was hot.”

On Saturday, the father’s reaction: “I really love you, son.”

And this is how it goes with the Brooklyn Boyz, one story after another. Bonomo talks about a lunch they had in Brooklyn before coming to Louisville where half their neighborhood shows up. They must all have his cell phone number. Many have never had much interaction with a horse outside of a betting window, but all had advice on what to feed the horse, when, how much.

“Everybody’s an expert,” he said. “But I love it.”

After the race, Bonomo said, “I didn’t know your phone could store 267 messages. I’m trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to return all these. But I begged Vinny on the way over to have a party at a restaurant (in Brooklyn) that he is paying for. So all these messages, maybe we can return them in person. That’s what our neighborhood is all about. They carry you in times like this that are great. But more importantly, when they are not as great is when you really know the value that your friends are friends forever.”

The colt was named by Bonomo’s wife, Mary Ellen, who said, “I’ve always daydreamed. I probably daydream a little too much. So I thought why don’t we just name it Dreaming. Everybody dreams of something, whether it’s a big event or a special day or the birth of a child or winning the Kentucky Derby.”

Bonomo, in the span of eight hours, decided to get into horse racing and took out an owner’s license, even picked out silks, while at Saratoga with his wife about a decade ago. Viola has been involved in big-time sports for a while, but when asked where the Derby ranks, said, “Someone asked me is this the greatest feeling you’ve ever had? And I said yes – outside of the birth of my children and meeting my wife.”

Pletcher scored his second Derby win as a trainer. Velasquez scored his second as a jockey.

"I got a great saying," Bonomo said. "In Todd we trust."

“Sometimes,” a favorite writer of mine, Frederick Buechner, once said, “wishing is the wings the truth comes in on. Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”

For Bonomo, Viola and their families, dreaming gave way to a beautiful reality.

“You’re standing around at 14 and watching the racing, you know,” Bonomo said earlier last week. “And all of a sudden you turn 15 – well, truthfully, I act like I’m 15 – but now you’re standing here at the Kentucky Derby. . . . I don’t know. Even when you’re dreaming, you can’t dream it.”

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