Trainer Todd Pletcher didn’t mince words in regards to Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming at Thursday morning’s annual Alibi Breakfast.
“The horse is doing unbelievably well in the two-week turnaround,” Pletcher said. “The way he’s moving, the way he’s acting, the way he’s getting over the track, we feel really blessed that he’s coming into the race this way. I’m someone who has been in a lot of races and lost a lot of races, so I know you don’t want to be overconfident, but I do feel very, very good about the way he’s coming into it.”
Always Dreaming is on course to continue his Triple Crown aspirations in Saturday’s 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico. The dark bay son of Bodemeister has been a handful, though, and Pletcher shipped him to Baltimore only three days after his 2 3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
“I think we got exactly what we hoped we would get when we got here, a good, quiet setting,” Pletcher said. “The horse was able to settle in very well and have a relatively peaceful first week. We anticipated that things would build up this week with other horses coming in, and more people coming in. I think that initial week to settle in was beneficial. At this point, he’s just sitting on go and we’re hoping to keep him that way for another 48 hours.”
On Thursday, Always Dreaming galloped about 1 1/2 miles around 5:30 a.m. (ET) at Pimlico.
“I thought he had a very strong, enthusiastic, contained gallop,” Pletcher said. “He’s giving us a great feel and shown us everything we’re hoping for, leading back in two weeks. The tank seems full. He seems eager to go. We’re just trying to keep him on the ground one more day.”
The post position draw for Preakness 142 was held Wednesday, with Always Dreaming assigned stall 4 and 4-5 morning-line favoritism. Just to his outside will be champion Classic Empire, who is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line.
“I think it’s an ideal spot for Classic Empire,” Pletcher said. “If I were them, I would be happy with that post. I would imagine that they are going to target us and the target is right next to you. It probably gives him a little bit of a tactical advantage from that perspective. We’re just focused on hopefully breaking cleanly and smoothly and letting him run to the first turn a little bit.
“I think (jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) will get a sense of how much speed the other horses are showing,” he added. “On paper, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money (post 10) are the horses that have consistently shown the most speed. As you know, gates open, things change. On paper that’s where it seems like most of the pace will come from.”
Classic Empire jogged a mile and galloped a mile Thursday morning at Pimlico ahead of the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“He was focused and happy. I walked him out to the track this morning and he was eager to get there. Sometimes he’s not as eager, especially this winter,” trainer Mark Casse said in reference to Classic Empire’s reluctance to train at times during the winter. “He was ready to go and do his job.”
Classic Empire suffered trouble in the Kentucky Derby while breaking from post 14 against 19 other rivals, but still managed to rally strongly in the lane for fourth. Casse thinks the smaller 10-horse field and post 5 in the Preakness will help Classic Empire move forward in the Preakness but knows he still has a big task ahead in beating Always Dreaming.
“If anything I have a greater respect for Always Dreaming. I think he’s going to be tougher to beat than I thought he would be going into the Derby,” Casse said. “I love (Always Dreaming and Classic Empire) being side-by-side, and I like it a lot better that we’re outside and he’s inside. The start’s going to be important. It allows us to have more options. Always Dreaming, he has one of the best riders in the world, so I’m sure Johnny (Velazquez) will figure it out.
“Todd’s horse has rated before, but I think he rated on the outside. Now he’s going to have to rate on the inside. I would be really surprised if you don’t see Conquest Mo Money up in the picture early.
“If I could draw it out, Always Dreaming would go full tilt and him and Conquest Mo Money going at it for about three-quarters of a mile, and we sit behind them and watch,” he said. “That’s my dream. That won’t happen, but you asked.”
Multiple Grade 2 winner Gunnevera is drawn just outside of Classic Empire in post 6 and finished seventh after a troubled trip in the Derby. The Antonio Sano trainee galloped at Pimlico Thursday morning with exercise rider Victor O’Farrell aboard.
“For me, he is better than he was before the Derby, stronger,” said Sano, who saddled more than 3,300 winners in Venezuela before venturing to the U.S. in 2009. “He likes this track and the weather Saturday looks good.”
Last-out Illinois Derby (G3) winner Multiplier, who galloped about 1 1/4 miles on Thursday under exercise rider Asael Gonzalez, was assigned the rail during Wednesday’s Preakness draw, but trainer Brandon Walsh didn’t seem too concerned with the innermost post.
“I wasn’t thinking about it last night, but he actually had drawn the 1 in Illinois as well,” Walsh said right before Multiplier schooled in the paddock. “So I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference with 10 runners.”
Multiplier was privately sold from American Equistock to a group headed by MGM movie mogul Gary Barber after taking the Illinois Derby. The bay son of The Factor just broke his maiden by 1 3/4 lengths prior to that contest.
“On his last run, I think he fits,” Walsh said. “If the pace is slow, he’ll be closer. If not, he’ll be a ways farther back. He’ll come running at the end. I’m sure of that. He’s a fresh horse again. He’s had some time since Illinois (four weeks).
“I’ve had a couple of Breeders’ Cup runners (Daylaami and Fantastic Light as an assistant), but this is my first classic runner, so it’s very special,” he added. “This is where every trainer wants to be. Hopefully it’s the first of many. You’d like to have horses like this every year.”
Lexington Stakes (G3) winner Senior Investment took a spin around Pimlico on Thursday at 5:45 a.m., jogging before turning back at the three-sixteenths pole.
“I had him go to where the race starts and then broke off into a gallop,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “He’s doing great. The post is good. I’m happy.”
Senior Investment drew post 8 during Wednesday’s draw and reunites with jockey Channing Hill for the Preakness. The duo have captured two of their three races thus far, including the Lexington.
“It’s a good post, but to be honest, the post isn’t a big deal with him,” Hill said. “Any post would have been perfect. He’s obviously very place-able and does whatever I ask him.
“I don’t think he could have won the Louisiana Derby ([G2], finished sixth), but he had an inside trip and I’ve learned to keep him clear. I don’t have to be outside with him, I just have to keep things out of his way. After the Oaklawn (allowance/optional claiming) win (on February 18), I have been very high on him. I thought I was going to win by a length that day and he really sprinted out. He really has great turn of foot.
“Last out I had plenty of horse left after the Lexington,” Hill continued. “He really galloped out. I don’t know about other peoples’ horses, but I know my horse will do what I want and nothing fazes him. I think I have a legitimate chance to run 1-2-3.”