142nd Preakness Stakes preview: Always Dreaming ready to keep Triple Crown hopes alive at Pimlico

By The Sports Xchange   |   May 19, 2017 at 5:07 PM
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Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming completed his preparations for Saturday's 142nd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in the second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

The 3-year-old colt made a one-mile jog around the Baltimore track Friday morning under the supervision of trainer Todd Pletcher, who said he wanted to give the 4-5 morning line favorite a relaxed day before Saturday's 6:48 p.m. ET post time in the 10-horse field.

Pletcher followed the same workout schedule for Always Dreaming following his victory at Churchill Downs on May 6.

"We got what we were looking for in terms of quiet environment," Pletcher told the Baltimore Sun on Friday of his Derby champion's 10-day workout schedule in Baltimore. "So yeah, I feel good about it. We might have arrived in the same condition if we had stayed at Churchill. But I just felt at the time it was the correct move, and nothing I've seen here has indicated that it wasn't."

Six-time Preakness winner Lukas impressed with Always Dreaming

Six-time Preakness winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was Todd Pletcher's former boss, joined him to watch Always Dreaming's final jog.

"I was just kind of pumping him up," the 81-year-old Lukas told the Baltimore Sun of Pletcher. "He's done a really beautiful job with this horse. This horse is not easy to train. I've always said that this race, the Derby, the Belmont are always won by guys with experience. His experience is paying off. This horse looks good."

Always Dreaming, ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, will break from the fourth post with top challenger Classic Empire right next door at No. 5 for Saturday's race, which will be run under a forecast of near-perfect weather conditions.

Classic Empire, the 3-1 second choice in the morning line, won the Arkansas Derby last month but was jostled while breaking from the 14th post in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby at muddy Churchill Downs and finished fourth as Always Dreaming won by 2 3/4 lengths.

Lukas agrees with Classic Empire is the only horse talented enough to pull off an upset.

"They are the two best horses, but my experience is when a horse has a really rough race in the Derby, which Classic Empire did, where he really didn't get a good trip and things kind of went awry all the way around there, it seems like it's tough for them to overcome in the next one," Lukas said. "He's quality. He's a really good horse. He's in top form as far as I can see. But it may affect him a little bit here."

Possible Triple crown threat

American Pharoah in 2015 became the 12th Triple Crown winner to capture the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978 -- a 37-year gap that was the longest in history.

On that day at Belmont Park on June 6, 2015, one of the first people to reach trainer Bob Baffert and congratulate him was Todd Pletcher.

Pletcher showed his respect and Baffert returned it in kind, according to Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde.

"You're going to win one of these," Baffert said to Pletcher after his horse won the Triple Crown.

Two years later, the possibility presents itself for another Triple Crown winner.

If Always Dreaming wins the Preakness, it will be on to New York for the Belmont on June 10, giving Pletcher a shot at making Baffert's 2015 pronouncement come true.

"I've never seen him go into the Preakness with a horse like this," Baffert told Forde of Always Dreaming. "If he has racing luck, I can't see him getting beat."

Classic Empire giving chase

Besides the top two favorites, there are other quality colts in the $1.5 million, 1 3/6-mile race, like Lookin At Lee, a 33-1 Derby longshot who found his footing late and finished second, and Gunnevera, winner of the Grade II the Fountain of Youth in March who finished seventh at Churchill Downs two weeks ago.

"It's not a two-horse race," Classic Empire trainer Mark Casse said. "There's some other nice horses in this race. If there is too much concentration (on the two favorites) it could set it up for somebody else."

Casse insisted the Preakness isn't about revenge after Classic Empire's Derby finish and referenced his horse to Rocky Balboa.

"The champ's been knocked down and he's going to come back and try to take back the crown," Casse said. "It's got nothing to do with revenge because Always Dreaming did nothing wrong. He's the champ and we're just going to go after him.

"We want people to watch. If we can't win, I want Always Dreaming to win because this sport is so important to me. It's always nice to have a horse going for the Triple Crown. If we can't win, I hope he does."

Pimlico Race Course needs renovation

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and is willing to considering investing state money in the Pimlico Race Course.

The owner of Pimlico Race Course said earlier this week that the 147-year-old track likely would have to be rebuilt -- at a cost of $300 million to $500 million -- to keep the race there rather than move it to a track in Laurel, Md.

"Governor Hogan has made it clear he wants to see the Preakness stay in Baltimore, where it has attracted visitors from around the country for over 140 years," said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan. "The governor is committed to working with all involved parties to work out a solution that preserves this tradition while ensuring the most effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars."

Laurel Park, which runs 150 racing days, is located midway between Baltimore and Washington.

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