June 24, 2018

Channeling Ghosts of Preakness Past In Backing Classic Empire Over Always Dreaming

The full field for the 2017 Preakness Stakes was drawn at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland, on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 (c) Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com

Which year’s Preakness will Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming emulate?

Whether you’re for or against Always Dreaming in the Preakness Stakes (click for FREE Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances) on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, there is plenty of recent history to support your stance.

So which year will 2017 most remind us of? As someone who A) is betting against Always Dreaming, and B) most likes Classic Empire, I’m hoping that this year is an encore performance of last year when Kentucky Derby second choice Exaggerator defeated winning favorite Nyquist.

Another similarity beyond the price scenario is that the track on Saturday at Pimlico is likely to be completely different than what these two contested on May 6 at Churchill Downs. That benefited Exaggerator last year, who won an “off” Preakness after closing too late on a fast track at Churchill. This time, it’s a fast track at Old Hilltop after a sloppy surface beneath the TwinSpires.

Also last year, Exaggerator was on the right part of the track but with the wrong running style. Speed held extraordinarily well on 2017 Derby day, and I remember before the Preakness commenting that if this were almost any other scenario people would be commenting that Exaggerator was the play on a fair surface at the price.

Well, this year, it wasn’t running style that was the problem, but area of the track. Always Dreaming made his own trip closer to the rail, and Classic Empire was probably never beating him in that race, but they’re a lot closer in talent than their 4-to-5 and 5-to-2 prices would indicate (at those odds, Always Dreaming is expected to win twice as many races as Always Dreaming, and I disagree).

Another year to consider is 2013 when Orb won at 5.4-to-1—the longest-priced favorite to win the Kentucky Derby in history. That was on an off track, and he was 7-to-10 to win the Prekaness two weeks later on a fast track (i.e. bettors said Orb was more than 3x more likely to win the Preakness than the Derby). That did not come to pass, as Oxbow went gate-to-wire and Orb never fired. Like Always Dreaming, Orb had won the Florida Derby on a fast track before winning the Derby on an off track.

It’s hard to see Always Dreaming throwing in that kind of clunker, but another year that comes to mind is 2010, which was trainer Todd Pletcher’s only other Kentucky Derby win. Super Saver beat champion two-year-old male Looking At Lucky in the Derby before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner turned the tables in the Preakness with Super Saver (like Orb) off the board.

All this recent history is enough for me to oppose Always Dreaming at odds on and strongly favor Classic Empire at anything better than 2-to-1. And again, this is not to say Always Dreaming wasn’t best in the Derby—he was; it is to say that Classic Empire wins this race more than a third of the time and is better than half as good as Always Dreaming.

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