Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming is the only definite for the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) on May 20 at Pimlico, but some of his Derby rivals are already under consideration to join the Todd Pletcher in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Most prominent of those are runner-up Lookin at Lee and fourth-place finisher Classic Empire.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Lookin at Lee ran in the rear of the field, saving ground down on the rail throughout the Run for the Roses before angling out in midstretch and finishing 2 3/4 lengths behind Always Dreaming at 33-1.
“Everybody’s good. I haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody to make any decisions on what’s next for any of them,” said Asmussen, also referencing Hence and Untrapped who finished 11th and 12th, respectively, in the Derby.
“The Preakness is definitely a possibility for ‘Lee.’ But, we’ll give this race the respect it deserves and wait and see how he does when he gets back to the track. Just make sure he’s the Lookin at Lee that has spoiled us to this point.
“He gives you a lot of confidence,” Asmussen added. “He just keeps coming. He doesn’t hesitate. I thought (jockey) Corey (Lanerie) was a great fit for him and did a wonderful job. He got a dream run. He got his chance. He ran well to the wire. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
When asked what might be next for Hence and Untrapped, Asmussen replied, “That will be pretty interesting. I didn’t think Hence ran his race. Not that he didn’t handle the track, but I think the slop and the kickback in the face was a bit overwhelming. He just jumped up and down the whole way. Untrapped, we’ll just try to find him the right spots.”
Trainer Mark Casse is still hopeful Classic Empire can make the Preakness, but for now is waiting for the Pioneerof the Nile colt to recover from his Derby run, including a swollen right eye which was three-quarters shut Sunday morning.
“A lot of it is just going to be how quickly his eye can come around. He also got cut up quite a bit yesterday,” Casse said. “He looks a bit like Muhammad Ali after a rough night.
“Believe me, after yesterday I’d like another crack at everybody because he had a trip from hell. (Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) said he didn’t know how he stayed up, he got hit so hard.”
Classic Empire suffered a terrible trip after breaking from post 14, getting hit hard by McCraken just to his outside in post 15 from the auxillary gate and brutally squeezed back between rivals. He then was bumped again in the stretch drive and forced off stride, carried out in midstretch and just managed to recover in time to rally for fourth on the wire.
“I’m amazed. The crazy thing is that yesterday was probably the best race of his life, and he may have raced the entire race with one eye because that’s probably when it happened (at the start),” Casse said.
“We’re going to have to see how his eye does. Eyes are funny. Some will be fine in 24 hours. Some take weeks. We’re going to take it day by day.”
“We’re so proud of Classic Empire,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “We don’t want to give any excuses for the trip but he ran very well with everything that happened this winter.
Both Classic Empire and stablemate State of Honor, who finished 19th and last after setting the early pace, will remain stabled at Churchill Downs.
The connections of two other Kentucky Derby 143 runners have not issued outright “No’s” to Preakness 142.
Gunnevera came out of his seventh-place finish in good order, despite also being bumped during the chain-reaction incident at the start.
“Gunnevera came out of the race sound and healthy,” trainer Antonio Sano’s son, Alessandro Sano, said Sunday morning.
No Preakness decision was announced for the Dialed In chestnut, with Alessandro Sano commenting, “My father will be meeting with the owners to decide what race will be best for Gunnevera.”
Girvin, yet another involved in the rough start as well as being bumped again and checked around the five-sixteenths pole when State of Honor began fading, exited his 13th-place finish in the Run for the Roses well, according to trainer Joe Sharp.
No plans were announced for the Tale of Ekati colt, but neither the Preakness nor Belmont Stakes (G1) have been ruled out either.