All eyes in thoroughbred horse racing will be on Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course Saturday for Preakness 142 and the second leg of the triple crown. The Grade One test is a mile and 3/16th’s on real dirt.
At issue first among many things, is whether or not Always Dreaming can repeat his winning performances in his last 2 starts, The Florida Derby and The Kentucky Derby. He is the prohibitive 4-5 morning line favorite from post 4 in a field of 10. The 3-1 second choice is Classic Empire from the 5 hole, the beaten Kentucky Derby morning line favorite who finished a gutty fourth in the Run for the Roses in spite of a very troubled trip. And there’s also Lookin at Lee from post 9 at 10-1, the longshot Kentucky Derby runnerup.
Horse racing has gone through a positive cycle the last few years with American Pharoah winning the first triple crown in 37 years, California Chrome becoming the sports career money leader and then Arrogate overtaking Chrome and still active and racing with 17 million dollars in the bank and counting. So for the love of the game a win by Always Dreaming Saturday would continue building on that positive momentum and bringing more new fans to a game that sorely needs them.
But the odds are against Always Dreaming. His trainer Todd Pletcher more or less helped invent the modern day trend to spacing more time between starts for horses to between 4 and 5 weeks, taking into account the increasing fragility in the breed. Pletcher has had very little luck with short turnarounds for horses, like his Super Saver, which won the 2010 Kentucky Derby but never won again, was 8th in the Preakness and only had one other career start, a fourth in The Haskell. And Pletcher has never won The Preakness, although he’s only tried 8 times. The odds favor Pletcher in spite of his poor record in short turnarounds, as ten of the last twenty Derby winners went on to also win the second leg of the crown. And the racing style of Always Dreaming which is based on tactical speed, has historically flattered Preakness contenders.
Classic Empire will likely have a much better chance to beat Always Dreaming now than he did two weeks ago, when The Arkansas Derby winner was slammed out of the gate, compromising his chances on track that played to speed that weekend, had mud in his face for a mile and a quarter, was hit again, and still finished a gutty and respectable fourth. Not bad for a two year old champion who survived an injury and missed training time last winter to get this far. Barring any more bad luck with traffic, the take here is Classic Empire will be much closer to the lead this time to try and make the most of his mulligan.
Lookin at Lee was also gutty in The Kentucky Derby, proving his moxy by weaving through heavy traffic and hugging the rail for the shortest way to the wire, a huge credit to jockey Corey Lanerie for a ride that reminded many of Calvin Borel, the jockey who won 3 Kentucky Derbys in 4 years. Lookin at Lee is a dead closer and will only have a shot if there is a lively pace scenario up front.
So who will wear The Black Eyed Susans Saturday Night? No one would be surprised to see Always Dreaming win again, he’s been training on the muscle, looking very lively, tips that the short turnaround may not bother him. But this writer is sticking with his Derby pick, Classic Empire. He deserves another chance and a clean shot at the favorite, and the father and son training team of Mark and Norman Casse is the home team, based for a long time at Churchill Downs.
The Preakness Field…
1 Multiplier 30-1
2 Cloud Computing 12-1
3 Hence 20-1
4 Always Dreaming 4-5
5 Classic Empire 3-1
6 Gunnevera 15-1
7 Term of Art 30-1
8 Senior Investment 30-1
9 Lookin at Lee 10-1
10 Conquest Mo Money 15-1