Always Dreaming ran away in a nightmare Kentucky Derby, but a different scenario may be in store in Baltimore.
His nine opponents – including four returnees from the Derby – are ready for the colt’s front-running tactics. In Saturday’s 142nd Preakness, they’re getting their rematch in hopes of cutting Always Dreaming’s Triple Crown dream short.
In particular, Classic Empire’s connections can’t wait. In the Derby, the 2016 juvenile champion was roughed up early at the break and bumped again during an eventful stretch run, but still finished fourth. Adding insult, he got hit in the right eye – likely by a mud clod – and couldn’t open it after the race.
“We’re running him because we think he’s the best horse,” said trainer Mark Casse, noting the eye injury is now healed. “And we sure didn’t change our mind given the results of the Derby. ... He’s a tough son-of-a-gun. We still feel he’s the best horse and we want to prove it.”
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In the Derby, Always Dreaming benefited from a sloppy track that looked like melted peanut butter. For the Preakness, the Baltimore, Md., forecast calls for thunderstorms Friday followed by cloudy skies on Saturday’s race day. A fast track is anticipated.
As for Always Dreaming, the big bay colt lives up to his name.
“I don’t know what’s going through his mind sometimes, but he’s certainly curious,” said trainer Todd Pletcher in a conference call. “He’s always at the front of the stall, has his head out and his ears up and taking in the scenery.”
Pletcher credits Always Dreaming’s “high cruising speed” for the colt’s success. After losing twice as a juvenile, the son of Bodemeister has now won four consecutive races, all this year.
“He’s a great mover and a great galloper,” Pletcher said. “He’s got such an efficient use of his body that I think that’s part of what makes him so good.”
Pletcher, now 2 for 48 in the Derby and 2 for 22 in the Belmont Stakes, has never won the Preakness. But most Triple Crown seasons, Pletcher skipped the middle jewel in favor of waiting for the Belmont at his New York home base. He’s had only eight previous Preakness starters; his best finish was a third in 2000 with Impeachment, Pletcher’s Preakness debut.
Before Always Dreaming, Pletcher hadn’t entered one of his Derby starters in the Preakness since Super Saver, his 2010 Derby winner. Super Saver finished a tired eighth.
Jockey John Velazquez, Always Dreaming’s regular pilot and racing’s all-time richest jockey with $364 million in earnings, has never won the Preakness either. He’s ridden two previous Preakness starters for Pletcher: Circular Quay (fifth in 2007) and Stradivari (fourth last year).
Besides Classic Empire, Derby also-rans back for another try at catching Always Dreaming include Lookin at Lee (second), Gunnevera (seventh) and Hence (11th).
Of the new shooters, Multiplier (Illinois Derby) and Senior Investment (Lexington Stakes) both won stakes in their last starts. Conquest Mo Money, second in the Arkansas Derby, is expected to challenge Always Dreaming on the pace. Cloud Computing finished a distant third in the Wood Memorial.
Only one California horse – Term of Art – opted to face Always Dreaming in this second jewel of the Triple Crown. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Term of Art won the one-mile Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar last November as a juvenile. This season, he’s been winless in four stakes, all at Santa Anita. A 30-1 Preakness long shot, the son of Tiznow is owned by Calumet Farms.
Royal Mo, who just missed getting a Derby berth, was expected to pressure Always Dreaming early in the Preakness, but the California-based colt suffered a fractured sesamoid in his right front leg in his final Preakness workout Sunday at Pimlico. Trainer John Shirreffs said Royal Mo had successful surgery to repair the break, but that the colt’s racing career was over.
As for Derby third-place finisher Battle of Midway, he’s back in California in trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn. Hollendorfer was proud of his horse’s Derby performance at 40-1 odds.
“I thought our horse gave a nice effort,” Hollendorfer said. “He came out good, he’s back here at Santa Anita and we’re looking to run him maybe in the Affirmed (Stakes on June 24).”
Hollendorfer can see why most California trainers passed on the Preakness.
“Speed and endurance is a winning combination, and this horse has it,” Hollendorfer said of Always Dreaming. “That’s how (Bob) Baffert won the Triple Crown (with American Pharoah in 2015).”
142nd Preakness Stakes
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Md.
When: 3:38 p.m. PDT Saturday
TV: 2 p.m. Saturday, Channel 3