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Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming’s owner talks victory

CORRECTS ID TO ANTHONY BONOMO NOT VINNY VIOLA

CORRECTS ID TO ANTHONY BONOMO NOT VINNY VIOLA Anthony Bonomo celebrates after Always Dreaming won the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 6, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones) Photo Credit: AP / Garry Jones

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The morning after his colt Always Dreaming dominated the Kentucky Derby, it still hadn’t sunk in for Anthony Bonomo.

“It’s still surreal,’’ the Manhasset resident said Sunday on Churchill Downs’ backstretch. “When you’re a kid, you’re dreaming of all these things. I watched the replay a few times — like 400 — but I was so excited I couldn’t analyze it. I don’t even know how much he won by.”

The margin was 2¾ lengths over Lookin At Lee but it felt more like five, because that’s how easily Always Dreaming won the world’s most famous race. Jockey John Velazquez stalked in second behind long shot State of Honor before taking the lead after 6 furlongs. At the top of the stretch, Irish War Cry moved three-wide and looked like a threat.

Bonomo’s childhood friend and co-owner, Vinnie Viola, told him, “This is the Derby. It’s on.’’

Fortunately for them, it wasn’t, because Irish War Cry faded quickly and retreated to 10th. At the three-sixteenths pole, Always Dreaming was gone and his crew went to horse heaven.

“My daughter Jackie was jumping on my back, screaming, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’ ‘’ Bonomo said. “It was so great to celebrate with my family and friends, especially Vinny.”

Viola, the owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, and Bonomo (pronounced Buh-NO-mo) grew up a few blocks apart in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. “We’re very close,” Bonomo said. “Brooklyn’s a place where your friends are your friends for life.

“A lot of people leave Brooklyn, but Brooklyn never leaves them. They’re the type of people that if you fall down, they’ll come and pick you up.”

The two pals have come a long way from the old neighborhood, where they played stickball and punch ball and hung out on stoops. Bonomo said they met at a Little League practice when “I was 7 or 8 and Vinny was 9 or 10.”

Bonomo, an attorney, is a board member of Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers (PRI), a medical malpractice insurer. He’s also a former chairman of the New York Racing Association’s board of directors. Viola, a Wall Street trader, is a 1977 West Point graduate. He was President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army before withdrawing his name from consideration in early February because of business-related concerns.

Bonomo said he spent Saturday night and Sunday morning responding to congratulatory texts. “I had 413 of them,” he said. “I didn’t know my phone could hold that many. I finished replying to them all on our way to the track.”

The birthday of Bonomo’s wife, MaryEllen, was Friday. “The horse gave her a good gift,” he said. That was appropriate, considering MaryEllen, an Elmont native, was the one who named him Always Dreaming.

Bonomo said he hasn’t “even thought about” the Preakness Stakes on May 20 at Pimlico. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Always Dreaming would arrive Tuesday in Baltimore and that the colt was in “outstanding” shape.

“I feel so happy for the horse and for his connections,’’ Pletcher said. “It feels awesome. The first Derby win [in 2010] was special, but this one is just as good or even better. It was great fun.”

Preakness preview. Always Dreaming’s possible Preakness challengers include Derby also-rans Lookin At Lee, Classic Empire (bad-trip fourth) and Gunnevera (seventh). Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire’s right eye was “three-quarters closed” Sunday and that his Preakness status hinges on a quick recovery. Other Preakness possibilities are Malagacy (also trained by Pletcher), Royal Mo, Multiplier, Senior Investment, Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money and Ireland-based Lancaster Bomber, trained by Aidan O’Brien.

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