May 19, 2024

Preakness Report May 11: Always Dreaming the clear favorite

Always Dreaming shipped to Baltimore three days after his 2 ¾-length Kentucky Derby victory, arriving at Pimlico on Tuesday, and the imposing colt is expected to face 10 challengers in the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes on May 20.

After entering 2017 as a maiden, Always Dreaming has established himself as a dominant presence in the 3-year-old division with four straight convincing wins by a combined 23 ¼ lengths. The dark bay son of Bodemeister will try to become the 16th horse to sweep the first two legs of the Triple Crown in the last 40 years.

The middle jewel of the Triple Crown hasn’t been a focus for Todd Pletcher, who brings a 0-for-8 ledger into the 1 3/16-mile race due primarily to his results in the Kentucky Derby, which he’s won only twice from a record 48 starters. The seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer elects to bypass the two-week turnaround for most of his beaten runners at Churchill Downs.

His previous Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, finished a disappointing eighth in the 2010 Preakness but there’s no point in looking for similarities. Super Saver was exiting a pair of losses to unheralded foes before posting an 8-1 upset on Derby Day, his only victory from six starts at age 3. Always Dreaming has developed into a win machine since being transferred to Pletcher last fall, scoring as the 4.70-1 Kentucky Derby favorite.

It’s easy to appreciate his progression and when you consider he hasn’t been seriously tested yet, Always Dreaming could have more to offer.

“He was ready to go,” assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale said after Always Dreaming galloped at Pimlico on Wednesday. “The pony had to hang on to him, because he wanted to do a little more. We’re happy with the way he went this morning.

“The (Kentucky Derby), I think, took nothing out of him. We’re happy. He bounced back almost immediately.”

I won’t be surprised to see him continue to move forward.

Let’s take a look at the expected Preakness competition (in alphabetical order):

Classic Empire: Thoroughbred racing fans would love to see a good rivalry and here’s hoping the 2-year-old champ can show up with his best. And there’s reason for optimism as Classic Empire looks to take a big step forward from a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Derby. I thought he was a race short entering the first Saturday in May, essentially starting his 3-year-old season over after being knocked off course by a foot abscess in early February, and a single prep (Arkansas Derby) isn’t enough to be ready for the 1 ¼-mile American classic. Fitness should no longer be a concern and Mark Casse pupil rates as the main challenger.

Cloud Computing: Connections wisely elected to bypass the Kentucky Derby with lightly-raced colt and Cloud Computing is an intriguing new face. He’s got a little bit of the Red Bullet/Bernardini look, an unraced juvenile eligible to come to hand with a career-best in the Preakness, and I won’t count a non-threatening third in the Wood Memorial (G2) against him –Chad Brown trainee had every reason to regress following a huge effort in the Gotham (G3) in which he chased a hot pace and courageously held to be a clear second behind a perfect-trip winner. Adds Javier Castellano and don’t count him out of the exotics.

Conquest Mo Money: New shooter brings plenty of speed and has never finished worse than second from five starts (3-2-0). Exits a commendable second in the Arkansas Derby (G1), dueling on a hot pace from post 11 before repelling all challengers but Classic Empire in the final strides, and Uncle Mo colt is bred for longer distances on his dam side. Conquest Mo Money has never registered a triple-digit BRIS Speed Rating but hard-trying speedster has some appeal for a share.

Gunnevera: Can he improve upon a seventh in the Kentucky Derby? Dedicated late runner loses Castellano to Cloud Computing and his form has declined since a nice win in the Fountain of Youth (G2) in early March. Tough to envision a turnaround in the Preakness.

Hence: Will be looking to rebound after experiencing a rough trip and never firing in the Kentucky Derby. And we saw the same last year from another Steve Asmussen trainee, Creator, an upset winner of the Arkansas Derby who bounced back from a Derby dud to win the Belmont Stakes at 16-1. Hence emerged from nowhere with a Sunland Derby (G3) upset two starts back, registering a whopping 103 BRIS Speed Rating for the 3 ¾-length decision, and we’ll see whether he can offer a better late kick in the Preakness.

Lancaster Bomber: Irish-based colt was beaten two lengths in fourth when trying a dirt track in the UAE Derby (G2) two back and served as a pacesetter for winning stablemate Churchill in the English Two Thousand last out. Lancaster Bomber will be up against it.

Lookin at Lee: Offered an eye-catching rally into contention on the far turn, advancing to second by the head of the Kentucky Derby stretch, and wound up five lengths clear of third while never threatening the winner. Lookin at Lee fits at this level, stringing together a pair of excellent placings, but a minor award is probably a more realistic goal for the confirmed closer.

Multiplier: Stepped up with a nice win in the Illinois Derby (G3), reeling in a clear leader to prevail in final strides, and registered a 104 BRIS Speed Rating. Could find himself overmatched against these foes but Multiplier appears to be making fine progress for Brandon Walsh and late runner picks up Joel Rosario.

Royal Mo: He was redirected to the Preakness after missing the Kentucky Derby due to insufficient points. Showed little when shipping outside of California for the Rebel (G2) two back but Royal Mo battled gamely to hold third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) last time. He’s probably not fast enough to offer a serious challenge, but Uncle Mo colt possesses tactical speed and trainer John Shirreffs remains high on his potential.

Senior Investment: Got up late to earn first stakes win in April 15 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland but received only a 93 BRIS Speed Rating for head decision. Senior Investment has captured four of his last five starts but it will be a surprise to see him make an impact at this level.