Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming appeared to exit his puzzling eighth-place finish in Saturday’s 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) in good order, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.
Plans for the classic winner, including a possible run in the 149th edition of the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 10, are still up in the air. Always Dreaming vanned back to his conditioner’s Belmont Park barn on Sunday.
“When I spoke to the ownership after the race yesterday, we all decided that we wouldn’t make any decisions until we got him home and evaluated how he’s doing,” Pletcher said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to make those types of decisions right after a race. We’ll process it for a little while.
“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy. We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”
Always Dreaming led the way in the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico, with champion Classic Empire latched onto his outside through the first six furlongs. Rounding the turn, the Bodemeister colt began fading under jockey John Velazquez while Classic Empire took command and continued on into the stretch.
Always Dreaming eventually crossed under the wire in eighth, beaten 14 lengths by upset winner Cloud Computing, to suffer the first unplaced run in his seven-race career.
“Talking to (Velazquez) a little more, he felt like he was even concerned sooner than (the far turn),” Pletcher said. “Down the backside, he just felt like (Always Dreaming) wasn’t taking him there the same way he had taken him there in the Kentucky Derby and the Florida Derby (G1) and the other two races that he’d ridden him in. Other than that, I don’t have a good explanation.
“(Always Dreaming) came back healthy, looks good. I thought he behaved himself well in the paddock and on the turf course. He seemed composed going to the gate,” Pletcher added. “The surface, I hate to use that as an excuse because he’s run well over all kinds of different surfaces, although this one was a little bit different because it was in that kind of drying-out phase.
“It just wasn’t his day, I suppose, is the best I can come up with.”
Velazquez had to adjust his right stirrup soon after the start due to Always Dreaming brushing the side of the gate at the break.
“I didn’t love the way he broke. He broke kind of awkwardly and hit the gate a little bit. Johnny lost his iron for a second because he brushed the side of the gate and he had to adjust his stirrup a couple times. He said in spite of that, when he was reaching down to grab his stirrup, the horse was taking him to where he wanted to be,” Pletcher explained. “Coming by the wire the first time I was a little bit concerned. You could see Classic Empire was right on him and (Always Dreaming) wasn’t maybe taking a firm hold of Johnny.”
Though he didn’t perform up to expectations, Always Dreaming entered the Preakness on a high note. The dark bay colt shipped to Pimlico just three days after taking the Kentucky Derby and was full of energy leading up to Saturday’s main event.
“Like I kind of cautioned everyone during the week, sometimes you don’t know those things until the quarter-pole, but everything that we had seen, we were happy with,” Pletcher said. “It seemed like he settled in well, he was aggressive but not so rank or as tough as he was some mornings at Churchill. He was still on it enough that we felt confident that the energy level was good.
“I kind of process through it and say, ‘What would I have done differently if I could?’ I don’t know if there’s anything I could have changed.”