Empire Maker sire line gets second Kentucky Derby in three years

Always Dreaming continues remarkable classic trend

The dream did indeed come true for the owners and connections of Always Dreaming in the 143rd Kentucky Derby. As the appropriately-named 3-year-old powered to a decisive 2¾-length triumph May 6 at Churchill Downs, it was a career-defining achievement for a colt whose preeminent classic sire line keeps finding roses.

Nearly three decades ago when Frances A. Genter’s Unbridled rallied to Kentucky Derby glory, few could have imagined the impact the Tartan Farms-bred son of Fappiano would have on the American Thoroughbred. The 1990 Derby winner would enter stud two years later at Gainesway, where he sired an illustrious first crop that included 1996 Kentucky Derby favorite Unbridled’s Song, who finished a gallant fifth, as well as that year’s Derby winner, Grindstone.

In 2003 Unbridled’s son Empire Maker was favored to give his sire a second Kentucky Derby winner, but he finished runner-up to the game gelding Funny Cide. Five weeks later, however, Empire Maker exacted his revenge and denied Funny Cide the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 2009 Derby featured an exacta for the Unbridled sire line as surprise winner Mine That Bird (by Grindstone’s Belmont Stakes-winning son Birdstone) led home Pioneerof the Nile, a colt from Empire Maker’s second crop.

Three years later, Empire Maker’s speedy son Bodemeister carved out eye-opening early fractions in the 2012 Derby but had to settle for second behind victorious I’ll Have Another.

The 2015 Kentucky Derby belonged to Pioneerof the Nile’s son American Pharoah, who won beneath the twin spires en route to becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

And this year, the sire line’s classic tradition continued with Bodemeister’s first-crop son Always Dreaming capturing the roses for owners MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St. Elias, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds; breeder Santa Rosa Partners; trainer Todd Pletcher; and jockey John Velazquez.

Always Dreaming gives Empire Maker his second Kentucky Derby-winning grandson in a three-year period and signals that America’s hottest classic sire line has no intentions of slowing down.