05/18/2017 11:36AM

Always Dreaming fresh and eager for Preakness

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Barbara D. Livingston
Always Dreaming is set to run on two weeks' rest for the first time in his career.

BALTIMORE – A little more than 60 hours prior to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming stepped onto the Pimlico track at 5:33 a.m. Thursday, ready for his daily exercise. Turned loose from the pony accompanying him, he immediately set out with keen interest for his 1 1/2-mile gallop, looking nothing like a horse just 12 days removed from the biggest test of his career, the Kentucky Derby.

“That’s the way he’s been since he’s been here,” his trainer, Todd Pletcher, said as Always Dreaming marched back to the stakes barn under exercise rider Nick Bush as the sun started to come over the horizon. “Except for one morning when he tried to buck Nick off, he’s gotten progressively stronger.”

For the first and likely only time in his career, Always Dreaming will run back on two weeks’ rest on Saturday. It can be a challenge for any horse in this modern era, where races are often well spaced, an approach that Pletcher has embraced with most of his horses.

The Triple Crown, though, requires horses to adhere to the calendar. To get to this point, Pletcher has kept Always Dreaming relatively fresh. By bypassing a series of prep races in stakes and focusing on smaller building blocks, Pletcher gambled that he would have a colt who would produce when it mattered in the Florida Derby and thus would be set for the demands of what lay ahead.

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To date, it has all gone perfectly. Always Dreaming eased into his 3-year-old campaign by winning a maiden race against overmatched rivals at Tampa Bay Downs. Instead of throwing Always Dreaming into the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 4, Pletcher ran him in an allowance race that day at Gulfstream against inferior competition.

So, when Always Dreaming lined up for the Florida Derby on April 1, he had exactly zero points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby. The Florida Derby was his one shot to make the field. And when he won, he was in. Five weeks later, he outran 19 rivals in the Derby while earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

“To have a vision four or five months in advance and have it work out is very satisfying,” Pletcher said the night of the Derby.

The next morning, Pletcher said he believed that running Always Dreaming in consecutive 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream gave the colt “a good foundation” for the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles.

On Saturday, in the second leg of the Triple Crown, Always Dreaming cuts back 110 yards to 1 3/16 miles, so distance is not a question. And of the 19 horses Always Dreaming beat at Churchill Downs, only four – Lookin At Lee, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, and Hence – are back to challenge in the Preakness. There are five newcomers to the Triple Crown – Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, Senior Investment, and Term of Art – and with a field of 10, the Preakness has half the number of runners as the Derby.

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The smaller field hopefully will produce a cleaner race than the Derby, in which several horses – including Preakness runners Classic Empire and Hence – were compromised. Always Dreaming, though, avoided the trouble, the benefit of having a horse with tactical speed who breaks well.

“He gets into a rhythm, clicking off pretty solid fractions,” Pletcher said. “To get into that high-cruising speed and maintain it from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter, it takes an elite horse.”

Always Dreaming starts from post 4, with Classic Empire – who finished fourth in the Derby after getting wiped out at the start – right alongside in post 5. Classic Empire is probably not as quick as Always Dreaming unless asked aggressively, but it’s likely he’ll want to be lapped onto Always Dreaming from the start.

Conquest Mo Money, making his first start since finishing second to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby – and supplemented to the Preakness and Belmont for $150,000 – is the pace wild card. He drew the outside post and has the speed to pressure Always Dreaming, or even gun for the lead, a scenario Pletcher has examined in regard to Always Dreaming.

“If the situation presents itself and he’s third or fourth or even fifth behind horses, I don’t think it’ll be an issue,” Pletcher said.

More important, as in the Derby, is for jockey John Velazquez to get Always Dreaming into a position where his long, loping stride is unencumbered. Velazquez deftly got outside of pacesetter State of Honor in the Derby, turning into the backstretch to be in the clear. If someone else is committed to the lead in the Preakness, Velazquez may have to make a similar move. But it’s entirely possible that Always Dreaming takes up the early running, and his rivals will have to try to overtake him.

Classic Empire is the clear second choice. He ran a remarkable race to finish fourth in the Derby after a start that resulted in him being shuffled to the back half of the field in the opening quarter-mile.

“I think this race sets up nice for us,” said Mark Casse, who trains Classic Empire. “But I thought the Derby set up nice for us. I thought we’d be fourth of fifth after the start, and we were 13th.”

Casse said that jockey Julien Leparoux told him after the race: “I don’t know how I stayed up. I didn’t get bumped. I got clobbered.”

Cloud Computing should be able to sit a good trip just off the leaders, while Gunnevera, Hence, Lookin At Lee, Multiplier, Senior Investment, and Term of Art all will be hoping a hot pace develops that leaves the leaders vulnerable to their closing charges.

Term of Art is adding blinkers. That is the only equipment change among the 10 runners.

The Preakness, worth $1.5 million, goes as race 13 on a 14-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Post time for the Preakness is listed as 6:48 p.m. It will be shown live on NBC in a telecast beginning at 5 p.m.

Preceding the Preakness are seven stakes races, three of them graded, including the Grade 2, $250,000 Dixie for older grass runners, including World Approval and Ring Weekend, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint, which includes Whitmore and A. P. Indian.

The Maryland Sprint and the Grade 3, $150,000 Gallorette for female grass runners will be shown during NBCSN’s coverage, which begins at 2:30 p.m.

It was extremely hot and humid here Thursday, with a high of 94 degrees, according to The Weather Channel, but a thunderstorm predicted for Friday is forecast to result in a gorgeous day Saturday, with a high of 69 degrees and no rain.

POST HORSE/SIRE TRACK ODDS WATCHMAKER ODDS BEST BEYER DERBY FINISH, BEYER JAY PRIVMAN AND MIKE WATCHMAKER COMMENTS
- designates Keeneland Sales graduate
   
Multiplier  30-1 20-1 94 ** JP: Has won last two with moderate figs. Needs significant improvement to be a factor vs. these.
  by The Factor         MW: Not only does he need around a 15-point Beyer jump, he also needs pace to set him up, too.
  Owner: Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel & George Kerr; Trainer: Brendan Walsh; Jockey: Joel Rosario
   
Cloud Computing  12-1 12-1 96 ** JP: Like that lightly raced colt bypassed Derby to point for this. Final work, on video, quite good.
  by Maclean's Music         MW: His third in the Wood is better than it looks on paper. He ran against a speed bias that day.
  Owner: Klaravich Stables & William Lawrence.; Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Javier Castellano
   
Hence  20-1 15-1 97 11th, 77 JP: Lost position early in Derby, had to go around tiring rivals on far turn. Has a right to improve.
  by Street Boss         MW: Still not sold on his Sunland Derby win two starts back as he was perfectly set up. Not for me.
  Owner: Calumet Farm; Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Florent Geroux
   
Always Dreaming  4-5 4-5 102 1st, 102 JP: Unbeaten in all four starts since Pletcher took over, all around two turns, and all by daylight.
  by Bodemeister         MW: Easily best at CD, especially when you consider the other pace players were soundly beaten.
  Owner: Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, et al; Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John Velazquez
             
Classic Empire  3-1 7-2 102 4th, 90 JP: Brutal trip in the Derby. Mugged at the start, forced to rally wide on final turn to avoid traffic.
  by Pioneerof the Nile         MW: Since he had just one representative effort in five months, it makes his Derby try remarkable.
  Owner: John Oxley; Trainer: Mark Casse; Jockey: Julien Leparoux
             
Gunnevera  15-1 15-1 97 7th, 84 JP: Was wide final half of Derby but never really fired. Wonder if he's over the top at the moment.
  by Dialed In         MW: Maybe he didn't like the track, maybe that's reaching. Declining Beyers, might be tailing off.
  Owner: Peacock Racing Stables; Trainer: Antonio Sano; Jockey: Mike Smith
             
Term of Art  30-1 30-1 92 ** JP: Fanned wide into lane in SA Derby, but considering hot pace, should have made bigger impact.
  by Tiznow         MW: Has had four starts this year and wasn't remotely close to winning in any of them. An outsider.
  Owner: Calumet Farm; Trainer: Doug O'Neill; Jockey: Jose Ortiz
   
Senior Investment  30-1 30-1 89 ** JP: Has crossed wire first in four of last five starts, got ideal trip and ride to annex the Lexington.
  by Discreetly Mine         MW: Lucky to win the Lexington. Third place finisher No Dozing was best, and he has since lost.
  Owner: Fern Circle Stables; Trainer: Kenny McPeek; Jockey: Channing Hill
             
Lookin At Lee  10-1 10-1 98 2nd, 98 JP: Had plenty of pace into which to rally, got dream run along rail, best part of the track in Derby.
  by Lookin At Lucky         MW: Several horses ran well away from the rail on Derby Day, but agree on his incredibly easy trip.
  Owner: L and N Racing; Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Corey Lanerie  
             
Conquest Mo Money  15-1 15-1 93 ** JP: Repelled all challengers in Ark. Derby before Classic Empire nailed him late. Can be pace factor.
  by Uncle Mo         MW: You could make a strong case that he ran the best race in Ark. Derby. Beyers are light, though.
  Owner: Judge Lanier Racing; Trainer: Miguel Hernandez; Jockey: Jorge Carreno

 

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