September 25, 2022

Pletcher: Always Dreaming getting ‘progressively better’ each day at Pimlico

Trainer Todd Pletcher has been delighted with Always Dreaming's first week at Pimlico (Maryland Jockey Club/Jim McCue)

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming turned in another productive morning of exercise at Pimlico Sunday, six days ahead of the Preakness (G1). An early bird out again at 6 a.m. (EDT), the Todd Pletcher trainee galloped in his now-familiar draw reins with exercise rider Nick Bush and schooled in the starting gate.

Trainer Todd Pletcher repeated some usual themes from recent days about the Bodemeister colt’s well-being going into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“Aside from deciding to jog him one day instead of gallop, which turned out to be fine, literally everything has gone exactly the way we kind of mapped it out,” Pletcher said. “We got the quiet environment that we were looking for here. He’s settled in really well.

“Each gallop day has gotten progressively better. He’s showing us everything we hoped he would show us: good energy; good appetite; he’s moving great; he was good at the gate today. He keeps checking off those boxes that we’re looking for. We’re really happy.

“I thought it went super, a very good gallop. We stretched him out a little bit and went almost a mile and a half. Went back and stood at the gate and was a perfect gentleman; walked right in; looked great. Everything went perfectly.”

Pletcher explained that the gate practice is routine for his horses.

“We just wanted to make sure that nothing had happened since his last race. We like to stand all of our horses at the gate at least once in between starts. It’s also helpful to let the crew here see him and get familiar with him. He’s very uncomplicated that way. He’s always been excellent at the gate.

“I think each day has progressively been better. I thought that today and yesterday were the two best gallops he has had. He seems to be settling into the draw reins. He’s got his head carriage at a proper setting. We’re really happy.

“We’ll stretch his gallops out a little bit like we did this morning. We’re not looking to do anything too exciting. We’ll continue on that path, just some routine gallops. We’ll paddock school at some point this week. That’s pretty much it.

“He’s been so professional and laid back about everything since he’s been here. I would anticipate that everything will intensify throughout the week. That’s why we wanted to get a head start, get settled in and acclimated here before everything got too crazy. I would anticipate that it’s not going to bother him. He’s a very cool customer around the barn. He’s good in his stall. He’s a curious horse. He kind of keeps an eye on everything going on around him, but I don’t envision it being any problem.”

Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Gunnevera, who vanned in from Churchill Downs Saturday, just walked the shedrow at Pimlico Sunday.

“He is sharp and knocking the tub out,” Larry Kelly, a former trainer-turned-advisor to trainer Antonio Sano, said of the Derby seventh-placer. “He walked today and will go to the track tomorrow.”

Champion Classic Empire, a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Derby, was due to hit the road from Churchill to Pimlico Sunday at 5 p.m.

“He’s been doing great,” trainer Mark Casse’s son and assistant, Norm, said. “Coming out from the Derby he really wasn’t that tired. We dealt with the small issue in his eye but he’s been doing very well out of the race.

“We’re all excited to give Classic Empire another shot in the Preakness. His trip was compromised in the Derby after the start and hopefully we’re in a much better spot going into the first turn next Saturday then we were in the Derby.”

Exercise rider Martin Rivera, who steered Classic Empire through a 1 1/2-mile gallop at Churchill Sunday morning, gave him a glowing review.

“He’s a happy horse,” Rivera said. “He’s been doing better each day of training and feels great moving over the track.”

Also en route to Pimlico Sunday afternoon was Conquest Mo Money, runner-up to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby (G1), who was traveling from his base at Prairie Meadows and making a rest stop at Churchill Downs.