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Final Voting Begins in French Presidential Race; 82 Kidnapped Girls Freed from Boko Haram. Trump Transition Team Warned Flynn; Always Dreaming Wins 143rd Kentucky Derby; Prince Philip to Step Away from Public Life. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired May 7, 2017 - 05:00   ET




HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Making history, hours from now France will have a new leader.

Will it be the far right candidate Marine Le Pen or the centrist Emmanuel Macron?

We have all the ground covered on this historic election.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Finally free, after years of captivity, some of these girls will soon be reunited with their loved ones. Details on the release of the Nigerian Chibok girls -- ahead

JONES (voice-over): Plus you know him as the Duke of Edinburgh.

But did you know this community says Prince Philip is the sacred son of a mountain god?

More on how they rely on him for their happiness.

HOWELL (voice-over): We want to welcome our viewers here and around the world. I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

JONES (voice-over): And I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones live for you here in London. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


JONES: Polls opened in France around three hours ago in a presidential election that could now shape European politics for years to come. The former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, you can see live pictures of him there. He is about to set to cast his vote. He's in (INAUDIBLE) in Northern France.

Macron himself just 39 years old and a relative newcomer to French politics. He surprised skeptics by successfully creating a new movement. It's called En Marche. He went into Sunday's voting as the strong favorite, campaigning to keep France in the European Union.

However, his opponent, the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, wants France to quit the European Union and she also has plenty of support throughout the country. She's argued for closing France's borders and severely restricting immigration to the country.

Each candidate is hoping to replace the outgoing president, Francois Hollande. He has held the office since 2012. He cast his ballot earlier on. He leaves as one of the most unpopular presidents in French history, which may have influenced his choice not to seek reelection.

Just a remainder: Emmanuel Macron, you're seeing live pictures of him there in Detouque (ph), Northern France, having just cast his ballot in this crucial French election.

CNN is covering the election with our correspondent at some of the other polling places where the French will decide their next president. Melissa Bell is live for us in Paris and Isa Soares is standing by in Henin-Beaumont.

Isa, let's begin with you. We just saw Emmanuel Macron casting his vote. Marine Le Pen is expected, I believe, where you are in the next hour or so.

Will she be confident going into this last bit of voting?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hannah, I can tell you we have seen about four cars or so and several motorbikes just arriving at the school here in Henin-Beaumont. We won't be able to see live pictures now of Marine Le Pen. She's just arrived add at this school here where we are in Henin-Beaumont.

She will be casting a vote here. We know that Emmanuel Macron did the same. Henin-Beaumont is a town that has backing for the Front National for the past three years, it has been traditionally a socialist town.

This is an old mining town and historically they have voted for the Left, for the Socialist Party, but now, many turning to Marine Le Pen I have been able to speak to some of the people who've been waiting here, we'll give you a shot of the people who've been waiting to catch a glimpse of Marine Le Pen. As she left, she went straight into the car.

Many people waiting to catch a glimpse of her. And the people we have been speaking to, Hannah, many of these people have come from about 30 minutes or so away from Henin-Beaumont, from other towns close by in the French North Rust Belt.

The majority of them telling us they voted in their towns for Marine Le Pen, for the Front National. They are confident she will win. That's why they backed her. That's the same message that I got from people when I was speaking to them yesterday here.

Many holding back initially, which way they will vote. But many confident that she will do the same. So we know, as you can see from live pictures, she is inside. Give you an inside shot of the school, at the school here. This is where she really first started her campaign about eight months or so ago.

She's returning, once again, to the northern part of France. This is where she won the battle for the hearts and the minds and now she's hoping to get the vote of the people here. Her message has played very well here and that's why people are backing her -- Hannah.

JONES: Isa, while we're talking to you, we're also seeing live pictures from inside the building behind you, where Marine Le Pen just cast her vote in this election. She's being greeted by many of her supporters, she's smiling, she looks relatively calm. I supposed, Isa, one way of --


JONES: -- telling how confident a candidate is feeling is by assessing the victory party that may be planned.

What has Marine Le Pen's team got in store for her?

SOARES: You know, the majority of people here haven't quite been popping the champagne bottles just yet. People have been victorious and optimistic that she will win. The Front National have been in power for three years or so. So they are confident that they will remain so.

There's reason for that because the last mayor here in this town was a Socialist mayor and he was charged with embezzlement of funds here. So people want to see Front National remain in power. And that is why they have really supported Front National in particular, Marine Le Pen.

And there's, you know, when you look exactly at what's been done in terms of the changes, they have lowered local taxes here in this town, they have spent money on infrastructure. And they say, more importantly, they are being heard. They felt like this was a forgotten part of France.

And this is how Marine Le Pen has also played it, forgotten France. She is paying attention to them. She is listening to them and she is making a difference for them. In terms of the key differences they keep pointing out, it is this question of patriotism versus globalization, the haves and have-nots, the elites and those who work in farms or so.

This is how this has been played out. People feel for the first time that someone is listening to them. And that person is Marine Le Pen.

JONES: OK, Isa, just keep an eye out behind you because Marine Le Pen may be -- emerge from that building.


SOARES: I think we've got -- here we go.

JONES: Let's see if we can see Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader, just emerging from the polling booth. Well, we did have her for a second. But you certainly saw her actually casting her ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President back tonight with Marine Le Pen?

JONES: Surrounded by a huge press pack there. As you would imagine, Marine Le Pen there, in her stronghold in the north of France. Isa Soares, our correspondent, trying to get a word in, as you can see. Everyone else is as well, as they try to get in touch with the Front National, the National Front leader, trailing in the polls but still hopeful that she can pull off what would be an enormous surprise across France and the wider world as well.

Let's bring in now Melissa Bell who's standing by for us in Paris.

Melissa, we have seen both candidates now cast their votes.

Several hours now into voting, the rules throughout the country, do we have any indication yet as to how the turnout has been?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The key figure we'll have in about an hour, the midday figure of turnout and that is going to be a really crucial thing to watch over the course of the day. Those figures come out at midday in France and then again at 5:00 pm.

And it'll be really interesting to compare it with 2012. Certainly here, in this polling station in the 18th District of Paris, you can see, voting is brisk. There is a long queue to make their way to the ballot box over there, in which they put an envelope, in which they put either Marine Le Pen's name or Emmanuel Macron. That line, that queue goes all the way outside.

So people very keen to come and cast their votes. And the voters that we have spoken to this morning have all said that they have a sense of the importance of this moment, not just because presidential elections are always important.

Remember, the French president has, in his hands, exceptionally large amounts of power. So there's something always in a French presidential vote that excites people. In fact, turnout in the last two presidential elections has been well over 80 percent.

The key question, especially for Emmanuel Macron, his hope is whether he's managed to make the voters enthusiastic enough to get out there and vote. Certainly, here, people seem to be taking that vote very seriously and say they wouldn't, for anything in the world, miss this opportunity to cast their vote in what is a choice between one version of France and a really starkly different vision of what the country should become, this year, perhaps more than in any other election in living memory.

JONES: We have seen now both candidates casting their votes.

Melissa, we also saw Francois Hollande, the outgoing French president, cast his ballot just in the last hour or so as well. Many leaders across the world, past and present have come out and given their two pennies' worth on this election result, most of them backing Emmanuel Macron. He is the outright favorite, am I right?

BELL: They are certainly watching. You are seeing Francois Hollande, the outgoing president, voting there earlier in an election where essentially the political landscape, whatever the result tonight, has already been redrawn. It's never happened in the history of the Sixth Republic that the two mainstream parties we've essentially shared power now since 1958 should be excluded entirely from the second round.

Already, France has changed. It will --


BELL: -- either then choose a far right version of what its future should be, a closure, a retreat behind its borders, and then to immigration, a withdrawal from globalization, economic protectionism or, on the other hand, much more continuity in terms of policy, an openness, more globalization, an openness up to the rest of the world and a strong reshaping of the European project.

That essentially is the very stark choice that is facing French voters today. But it's already, and I think this is something we have also heard from voters today, there is a sense that we are dealing with an entirely new political landscape.

JONES: An exciting day. The movement goes on. We will continue to cover this vote throughout course of the day. Melissa Bell in Paris and Isa Soares in Henin-Beaumont, thank you both.

HOWELL: Across France, let's get some insight now on this election bringing in journalist David Andelman. David spent many years covering French politics and joins us now live from the French capital.

David, let's talk about why this election is historic. You know, France will either have the youngest president to ever lead that country or the first female president to lead.

DAVID ANDELMAN, JOURNALIST: Well, he is the youngest president to have led the country, he would be the youngest president but not the youngest leader of France. Napoleon actually was five years younger than he was when he was emperor of the French back in the 19th century.

So it is certainly -- and for the last 100 years or so, this would be an unusual type of president to have. The French tend to go for more mature, longstanding people that they've had a lot of comfort with. Now what is particularly interesting is how this vote will go down.

And I think what is very important is the abstentions and the blind votes which will suggest what kind of a mandate Macron has in the future. When the French go into their polling places, they will be faced with paper ballots entirely. They choose one or the other, Macron or Le Pen; they place it in an envelope and then place the envelope in a glass ballot box. Now that envelope can be empty. And a lot of the votes who had

supported other candidates in the first round, who were very upset about their two choices, may very well vote blank.

And that's why, an hour from now, the actual numbers of abstentions or the numbers certainly of people who may not have voted (INAUDIBLE) voting will become very, very important to determine what kind of a mandate Macron has.

HOWELL: That is a big part of this.

Will people vote nil or blank?

We'll have to see obviously how this all plays out. But just speaking a bit more on the historic nature of this, so with Marine Le Pen, could be the first female president.

ANDELMAN: She could be. In fact, she has it in her DNA, she was destined to become a hopefully, first female president. I first met her in the early 1980s, when she was 12 years old. I had done an interview with her father for another television network.

We just had finished the interview in his house and a young blonde- headed girl with pigtails bounced into the room and the father, Henri Le Pen (ph), said to me, "I would like to present to you the first female president of France."

Well, this is certainly as close as she will have gotten. But there's one other more important thing as well and that is even if she does not win, if she does not become president, if she gets 35 percent, 40 percent of the vote, she will become the de facto leader effective of the opposition in France.

None of the major parties got into the second round this time, of course. So that's very crucial for the future of Macron's ability to govern, but he will be faced with Le Pen as the leader of the opposition.

HOWELL: Let's also talk about the news of this 11th hour hack of the Macron campaign, the big question now is, does this play into the minds of voters as they are set to make such an important decision about the future of that nation and the E.U., quite frankly?

ANDELMAN: Frankly, I think it is a relatively minor role, partly because of the timing of it. It came very, very late in the campaign, basically, only hours before all campaigning turned off at midnight on Friday night. So there really wasn't an opportunity for what was contained in those hacks as they did in the United States.

Also, it appears that what was in the hacks was not all that dramatic, it was fairly routine campaign business and so on. So the fact that there was a hack was interesting. Everybody basically had known that the Russians were trying to influence the campaign. And, frankly, it's on the back pages of most of the newspapers this morning.

HOWELL: Certainly following, with respect to reporting restrictions, not reporting the contents of that information. But we do know about the hack and the Macron campaign has confirmed that, stating that some of the information fake, some of it not. But, again, we'll see how this all plays into the minds of voters. David Andelman, thank you so much for being with us this hour.



JONES: The hashtag that had the world demanding, #BringBackOurGirls. Now dozens of Nigeria's missing Chibok schoolgirls are finally free. Officials say 82 of them were released after successful negotiations between the Nigerian government and the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

They are believed to be from the group of 276 schoolgirls stolen from their village three years ago. Isha Sesay has been following the story from the very beginning. She has more now.


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: After more than three years in captivity, it is the news that people around the world, not to mention the families, have been waiting for. That 82 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls have been released from Boko Haram captivity.

According to tweets put out by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, this release came about as a result of lengthy negotiation and there was a swap of Boko Haram suspects that was done in order to free these girls who will be transported to the capital of Nigeria on Sunday, May 7th, where they will be welcomed by the Nigerian president.

The Nigerian president also in tweets goes on to say that the number of people were involved in this effort to free these girls. He thanks a number of individuals including the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, local and international NGOs, alongside security agencies of Nigeria.

This really is a momentous moment. With three years having gone by, some had begun to doubt whether any more girls would be released.

As you may remember, some 21 were released in October of 2016. After that, there had been largely silence. We had heard no word of negotiations to bring about the release of more girls. But here we are on this day celebrating the news that 82 more girls have now been freed and will shortly be reunited with their families.

Of course amid the joy, amid the celebration, we must remember that there are still well over 100 girls who remain in Boko Haram captivity and there is no word whether negotiations continue to bring about their freedom. So that must be borne in mind.

But for the families, for the families that await news as to whether their children as part of this 82, this is just an incredible day filled with so much emotion as they look forward to being reunited with their loved ones. And we look forward to bringing you just more coverage of their entry

to normal life. These girls have been through so much in their three years in captivity. And we know that they've undergone tremendous hardship while they've been away from their loved ones.

And the road to recovery will be a long and a difficult one. But on this day we celebrate the fact that they are finally free and they will shortly be reunited with their loved ones -- Isha Sesay, CNN, Los Angeles.


JONES: Isha, we appreciate it. Important to remember, there are still at least 100 girls still missing. So we'll continue to cover this story.

Earlier on, we spoke to Nigeria's former minister of education about the impact that social media had on bringing some of these Chibok schoolgirls back home.


ADAMU ADAMU, NIGERIAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION: The whole world took on issue of the problem of the Chibok girls. So no matter where you resided, you were drawn to the very tragic story of girls who went to be educated and ended up being abducted by terrorists.

However, that was as far as it went. When social media then moved on and the rest of the world carried on with other priorities, it simply took those of us in Nigeria, who had been the voices that began call attention to the problem that had befallen these girls, to continue to persist. If there was no persistence in terms of local ownership of the problem, it would never have resulted in this series of positives that (INAUDIBLE).

The only thing that one can find the voice to say is persistence can make a big difference. And I am so grateful to God, I really am because it took a lot of faith for every one of us that's been advocating for our Chibok girls to continue, if and when the rest of the world moved on to other priorities. We want to be able to save every of our Chibok girl is back. Every one of them.


HOWELL: That is the hope, indeed, that we can soon say that; at this point, saying, though, 82 of these schoolgirls have been released.

Still ahead here on CNN, I want to take you back --


HOWELL: -- to France. You see the scene here in Luftuvke (ph), this live image at 11:19 in the morning. You can see Emmanuel Macron right there, front and center.

This is one of two candidates that French voters will decide to be their next president. The other, Marine Le Pen, in Henin-Beaumont, these live images as voters go to the polls, CNN covering this presidential race. Stay with us.




HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

We are following up on questions about the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

What did the Trump transition team tell him about his contacts with Russia's ambassador?

A former U.S. official tells CNN transition team members warned Flynn in November about the risks of communicating with the Russian diplomat and that such conversations were likely being monitored by U.S. intelligence.

This was weeks before Flynn reportedly spoke with the ambassador about U.S. sanctions on Russia. Flynn subsequently resigned. Let's get more now on this story with Politico reporter, Silvia Borrelli. She is live for us in London this hour.

Let's talk more about this. With news about Flynn, he was warned about these contacts with the Russian ambassador but went on with the conversation anyway.

The bigger question here, though, is this something that many in the United States, Americans, still care about?

Or is this more inside baseball with regard to Flynn's legal woes?


At this point, the question is, if he was warned, why did he go on and speak to the Russian ambassador on so many occasions about something so sensitive like the sanctions?

But even if he hadn't been warned, someone who was part of the transition team and about to be part of the government, why would he engage in conversations with the Russians in the first place, regardless of any warning?

At this point, he's been fired three months ago. This has been going on for so long. Sally Yates is scheduled to testify tomorrow. At the same time, we don't know how much she is going to be able to say because a lot of this information is classified.

You know, at this point, it looks like people have --

[05:25:00] BORRELLI: -- moved on, although, of course, this Russian meddling and the investigations connected are still lingering and quite important. But it depends on how much we'll know from here going forward.

Silvia, you touched on a great deal of the nuance on this. There are a lot of questions involved. But again, that broader question, many Americans who are following this, it is a very complex investigation. CNN and many other outlets certainly digging for information and following the leads.

But is this something that does become inside baseball for many people?

Or is this something that you feel people are still following very closely with regard to Michael Flynn?

BORRELLI: I do think it has become inside baseball because the guy is gone; he's no longer there. If you listen to President Trump, he blamed Obama for having even put him in that post in the beginning although that was years before his team came on.

Then you could go in to argue, well, how about the vetting process and the ability to vet their officials by the Trump administration?

But that, again, you know, is part of the blame game. It's a bunch of opinions and speculation right now. So I think people are starting to get tired with the Flynn story, to an extent.

HOWELL: Certainly, the blame game, as you point out, it is important to point out that the former president did fire Flynn.

Silvia Borrelli, thank you for being with us, live in London at 10:26 in the morning.

JONES: Stay with us here on CNN NEWSROOM. The Venezuelan political and economic crisis is getting worse. Coming up on the program, how the Trump administration is responding to a violent government crackdown on protesters.




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It is 5:30 am on the U.S. East Coast. Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Good to have you with us. I'm George Howell, live in Atlanta.

HANNAH VAUGHAN JONES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones, live for you in London, 10:30 in the morning this Sunday. Let's bring you the headlines now this hour.

(HEADLINES) HOWELL: Live images in France this hour. Take a look here. You see voters headed to the polls there in the French capital; 11:31 in the morning, the polls have been open for some time in this historic presidential race. The contest pits far right's Marine Le Pen against the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Macron has led in the polls. But his campaign said Friday it was hacked in a bid to sway the vote.

JONES: For more on the French presidential race, we are joined from Paris by Janine di Giovanni. Janine is the Middle East editor at "Newsweek."

Good to have you on the program, Janine. Personality and politics, two factors which have played such a crucial role in the campaign for both candidates, given that they are polls apart in both personality and politics.

But I wonder which is more important when it comes to voters, ordinary French citizens, going to the polls today and casting their ballot.

Which one is the overriding factor?

JANINE DI GIOVANNI, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think this is what we are going to see today. And there's many factors at stake. It's a rainy day in Paris, it's a gusty day. It is going to prevent people from coming out to the polls.

We have two very different people, as you said. We've got Marine Le Pen, who has promised in many ways to restore the national identity of France, which in her world means ridding the country of immigrants, of dual nationals, coming out of the E.U. in what would be called the Frexit in a kind of redo of the British Brexit.

On the other hand, we have Emmanuel Macron, 39 years old, young, fresh, a former banker who has clear ideas, a liberal. So the two of these are basically polarizing the country in a very distinct way.

This is an historic election. It's the first time since the 1950s that the two main French parties have been knocked out completely. And the challengers are two, basically independents that came out of not from the traditional, political background.

JONES: Marine Le Pen has very much pitted herself as the protector of France, given the fact that France has such a recent history with terrorism.

How important is that as a selling point for the French public to say that elect me and I will protect you from further attack?

DI GIOVANNI: Absolutely. Remember, this is the first election that has ever taken place during a state of emergency. We have been under a state of emergency since the terrorist attacks which left 250 people dead since 2015.

So France is in a very vulnerable state. And Marine Le Pen has played into that in a very big way, playing on people's fears, playing on the globalization that she sees as a demonic force that has basically turned the Frenchness of France into a more global commodity.

She doesn't want that. So she plays to people that basically want to see jobs restored, want to see France taken back to a time of great glory.

This is not very different from what Donald Trump did or what Putin does in Russia. Indeed, these are the people she aligns herself with. And they with her. Trump made no secret that Le Pen would be his choice.

JONES: Interesting that you mention the United States there. We do have this alleged e-mail hacking situation in France now on the Macron campaign team, similarly to what we saw in the --


JONES: -- DNC in the United States over their presidential campaign.

How much of a role?

I know that we are restricted in terms of what we can actually report because this election is very much live and happening now.

But how much of a factor do you think this alleged hack might be when it comes to how people cast their vote?

JONES: Well, what's interesting, is if you were not following the elections with a fine tooth comb, as we journalists or political analysts are, you probably wouldn't know because the mainstream French papers, "Le Monde" and "Liberation (ph)" did do a Q&A about it.

But absolutely the contents which we believe might be personal and financial, we don't know, have not been revealed.

And if you were just watching the main French channels, if you are just an average French citizen who wanted to find out what was going on, you probably would know little, if not nothing about it. So the French electoral commission basically said they did not want this in any way to tamper with what would be the results.

So when it was announced late Friday night, those of us who got on the Internet and began trolling it to see what we could find, very, very little. We don't know a lot yet.

But clearly, there is one thing I have always believed since the beginning of this election. There are two countries that have a huge interest in what happens in France, the United States and Russia. It is very important the results here, not just what's going to happen today, not just who will get in but the long term.

Marine Le Pen is not doing a short-term strategy. She's looking at the elections in 2020. Her niece, Marion (ph) Le Pen, who is a very strong contender for the next elections down the road, has been really coming out clearly in this election.

I think that we need to look long-term at the future of Europe, at what happens today and the impact it will have.

JONES: And of course, there is an argument, I suppose, that Emmanuel Macron could benefit from this alleged hack as well. People might see him as a victim and somehow feel sorry for him.

DI GIOVANNI: Absolutely.

JONES: I suppose that is one argument (INAUDIBLE).

Janine Di Giovanni, many thanks for joining us from Paris. Thank you.

DI GIOVANNI: Thank you.

HOWELL: Now to tell you about a mandatory evacuation underway right now, for about 50,000 people taking place in Hannover, Germany. Construction workers recently discovered unexploded bombs from World War II.

The evacuation remains in effect until experts defuse the deadly ordnance. Hannover was heavily bombed by the Allies in 1943. And finding unexploded bombs decades later is not unusual there.


JONES: Tens of thousands of women across Venezuela led anti- government protests on Saturday as the political and economic crisis gets significantly worse.


JONES (voice-over): Women there are demanding elections and an end to the violence. Protesters have taken to the streets almost every day for five consecutive weeks now. The opposition says the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, is a dictator, who has ruined the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nicolas Maduro wants through this fraudulent means, to avoid what no politician can avoid, a popular vote. The only thing we politicians cannot avoid is for people to judge us through their votes, through a popular vote.

So the protests will continue until the government understands that it must listen. Today, I am here, accompanying Venezuelan women. This country has the name of a woman, we must not forget that.


JONES: And this story has spread beyond Venezuela's borders as well. President Donald Trump of the United States says that the U.S. will work with the Peruvian government to help the people of Venezuela. At least 36 people have been killed in the country since early last month.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is now criticizing the Venezuelan president. Ambassador Nikki Haley says in a statement, quote, "We are deeply concerned about the Maduro government's violent crackdown on protesters in Venezuela. President Maduro's disregard for the fundamental rights of his own people has heightened the political and economic crisis in the country."

Nikki Haley there.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, this year's Run for the Roses was paved with mud. But it was perfect for one horse to clean up at Churchill Downs. We'll have that information for you ahead.

Plus, a tribe in Vanuatu is upset by the retirement of Britain's Prince Philip. Why he's a local legend to these South Pacific villagers, still ahead.





HOWELL: Welcome back.

The winner of this year's Kentucky Derby was no sleepwalker. A thoroughbred named Always Dreaming thundered around the muddy track at Churchill Downs to become the latest Triple Crown contender. Our Coy Wire was there.


COY WIRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A dreamy day at Churchill Downs here in Louisville, Kentucky, as the favorite, Always Dreaming, wins the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. This marks the fifth straight year that the favorite has taken the Run for the Roses.

That's the most since the 1890s. Always Dreaming got out to a great start and was helping to start set the pace from the very beginning, fighting the elements, the wet and sloppy track, running strong, despite the heavy, muddy hooves.

He endured to the end. It's safe to say that Always Dreaming is a mudder like no other. The winning team collects an estimated $1.2 million. The horse was bought for over $300,000. But the silver lining in this story, the jockey, John Velasquez (ph), now has four Triple Crown wins, two Kentucky Derbies, two Belmont Stakes, a Hall of Fame rider having claimed over $300 million in earnings, more than any jockey in the history of the sport.

But most impressively, he is the chairman of the board of the Jockeys Guild. And he's on the board of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. I spoke with him in the locker room before the race. And his mission, he says, is to work off the track to raise money to support those who have come before him and those who are in need of help, a sweet, sweet win, not just for a horse named Always Dreaming but for one of the good guys in the sport, jockey John Velasquez (ph). It is a wonderful day in Churchill Downs and one to be remembered.

The dream is alive for Always Dreaming. Now the question is, can he and Velasquez (ph) take the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Preakness Stakes in two weeks in Baltimore?

I'm Coy Wire for CNN in Louisville, Kentucky.


HOWELL: Coy Wire talking about "a mudder like no other."



DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And sporting the bow tie.

HOWELL: Coy Wire, do it, man.

VAN DAM: He can do it.

HOWELL: He can do it. All right, switching gears now, the U.S. state of California. It's had the distinction of having the worst drought in the U.S. But now that goes to Florida. Derek Van Dam is here.

VAN DAM: George, they're breathing a sigh of relief in California because the drought is over. But now in Florida, they are struggling to breathe because their drought is ongoing and it's caused significant wildfires.


JONES: Thank you both.

Still ahead on the program this hour, Prince Philip's retirement has shocked a small tribe in the South Pacific. Why the British royal is worshipped by villagers in Vanuatu. That's next.





JONES: An unlikely following is mourning the retirement of Britain's Prince Philip. A tribe in Vanuatu sees the queen's husband as a sacred son of a mountain god who holds the key to their happiness. And now they fear he will never venture to their tiny village in the South Pacific again.


JONES (voice-over): As Britain's Prince Philip announced his retirement this week, an unlikely fan base reacted to the news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Prince Philip has said one day he will come and visit us. But with the announcement, he will retire and no longer travel. We still believe that he will still come. But if he does not come, the picture that I am holding, it means nothing to us.

JONES (voice-over): To these villagers in Vanuatu, he's seen as more than a prince, he is divine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Prince Philip is important to us because our ancestors told us that part of our custom is in England. So that's why Prince Philip is important to us.

JONES (voice-over): According to legend, a pale-skinned son of a mountain god left the island in search of a powerful woman. And these villagers believe Queen Elizabeth II's elderly husband is that celestial son.

Back in 1974, the island was known as New Hebrides and ruled by Colonial Britain and France. The royals made a trip here but these villages didn't get the chance to see him, fueling the mystery surrounding the man.

Now word has spread of his stepping down. And his devout followers still hold hope that one day he'll return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We with were looking forward to Prince Philip coming. If he comes, one day the people will not be poor, there will be no sickness, no debt and the garden will be growing very well.


JONES: (INAUDIBLE) journalist Matthew Baylis (ph) spent time with that very tribe in Vanuatu and wrote a book about his experiences and joins me now.

Welcome, Matthew. Thank you for coming in.

This is really a cult following, isn't it?

Do they actually believe, though, that Prince Philip has divine powers and can have healing powers as well?

MATTHEW BAYLIS, JOURNALIST: It was certainly expressed to me when I was there with 100 percent conviction, yes. Despite that, there are other purposes to having a cult like that in that particular place, yes.

JONES: Is the Duke of Edinburgh aware of this cult following?

Is he aware that he has people who bow down to him, not just in the U.K. but also in a tiny corner of the South Pacific?

BAYLIS: Absolutely. He's been aware of it since 1978, when there was a formal ceremony, when a photograph was sent to the islanders. Ever since then, they have exchanged various gifts and messages. And he's met them from that specific part (INAUDIBLE) in the palace a couple of years ago. So, yes, he's well aware of it.

JONES: We heard in that short report then that some of the villagers saying, well, if he is going to retire and he never comes to visit us, then, effectively, this picture that I'm holding of him means nothing to me now.

Does that mean that, that's it?

No more godlike role?

BAYLIS: I would be very surprised. The thing about Tana (ph) is that it's a very creative place. And the beliefs there are very fluid and they're always changing.


BAYLIS: And I would be quite surprised if, within the next few days, someone else didn't pop up and say, yes, but this is clearly not what's happened. He has withdrawn from his public duties and gone into seclusion and might well be preparing for a transformation of status into something else. So I would be very surprised if the mourning period lasted very long. But who knows.

JONES: Well, one wonders as well about succession as well. Obviously Prince Philip is in reasonably good health, he's 95, he's nearly 96. But here in the U.K., we are obviously looking toward when the queen perhaps moves on and then Charles takes over as successor to the throne (INAUDIBLE).

Does it work the same in Vanuatu?

Will Prince Charles become the successor to his father, Prince Philip, as and when Prince Philip is no longer with us?

BAYLIS: I raised that question with them when I was there. And responses varied from, you are not understanding the point; it doesn't matter because he will come to us in spirit, even if he's not sitting in his body in Buckingham Palace anymore.

Other people suggested, yes, we might need to ask someone else from the royal family if they will come and do the same job.

JONES: Well, it's very interesting. It's a fascinating tale. Matthew, thank you very much for coming in.

This is your book, "Man Belong Mrs Queen." So go out and read it if you want to know more about the Vanuatu tribe there. Thank you.

That is it for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks so much for your company. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones, live in London for you.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell, live in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" starts next. For other viewers around the world, stay with us for a special CNN report, "Missing: Madeleine McCann."

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