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Always Dreaming Looks to Take On Preakness

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Always Dreaming will have a hill to climb when trying to eclipse the second leg of the Triple Crown in Baltimore, as the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes will include a crop of worthy competitors.

Louisville, KY—The Breeders’ Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby serve as the gold medal races to most North American horse racing enthusiasts.

As for the Preakness, that race is just pure fun. 

Pure fun with a kicker: the chance for Always Dreaming to further his chase for horse racing's most coveted prize, the Triple Crown.

“It will be exciting,” said jockey John Velazquez, who rode Always Dreaming to the finish line Saturday at Churchill Downs; and who will remain the mount for the Preakness.  “Every race is tough.  A lot of things, factors play into it.  We always have to be at our best.”

To become just the 13th horse to pull off the accomplishment--the first since American Pharoah (2015)--Always Dreaming will certainly have his work cut out for him in the 142nd installment of the annual race held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. 

Classic Empire, who finished fourth in the Derby, is more and more noted as the horse most likely to be the Exaggerator of 2017.  

A son of Pioneerof the Nile, Classic Empire came into the Kentucky Derby a 4-1 morning line favorite, falling back to 5-1 by post time.  The three-year-old came off the pace at the final turn at Churchill Downs, pushing to the furthest lane from the field, giving up way too much ground to cover in just a final stretch's worth of time, leaving him eight and 3/4 behind Always Dreaming at the wire.

Trainer Mark Casse said that Classic Empire’s right eye, which was inflamed after the Derby run, has improved "dramatically."   The Arkansas Derby champ will have much better opportunity to stalk the pace in a field that looks to be made up of just nine horses.  

The shorter distance of 9.5 furlongs will also come to benefit Julien Leparoux and Classic Empire, who together have taken down three Grade-1 races, including the mile and 1/16 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in 2016.

Gunnevera (seventh), Hence (11th) and the runner-up Lookin At Lee will round out the competition from the Derby.

Lookin At Lee, a son of Lookin At Lucky made the most surprising noise of the Derby, coming from the unforgiving one-slot, and carving out a dead last to two lengths from glory run.  With no wins under his belt since 2016, Lookin At Lee was the full beneficiary of the fastest part of the waterlogged off-track at Churchill Downs, squeezing the rail tighter than any other horse, and using that untouched ground to zoom past the field from the turn to the final stretch, and just running out of room to open up towards the middle of the track to chase down the final horse left in view, Always Dreaming.  With a smaller field, a shorter distance and a race track known to be unkind to closers, Lookin At Lee would be best kept on the shelf when considering horses to finish in the money, Saturday. 

Cloud Computing and Miguel Hernandez’s second place Arkansas Derby finisher, Conquest Mo Money will bring the tautest test out of the non-Derby runners.  

Known for training some of the best on the turf, Chad Brown has centered in on the dirt with Cloud Computing.  The three-year-old had a half-mile breeze at Belmont Park on May 13 with a :48.85 final time.  The concern for having faith in the third place Wood Memorial finisher to hit the money on Saturday stems, in large part to the lack of experience.  Cloud Computing was the latest horse in the field to break his maiden, doing so in February.  

With the field all but set, Always Dreaming is in a race where his trainer, Todd Pletcher is rarely seen in the winners circle.  In fact, Pletcher is rarely seen at the Baltimore race track, period.  Only racing eight horses lifetime in the Preakness, Pletcher has yet to go 2-for-2 in the Triple Crown, with his only other Derby winner, Super Saver (2010) finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Always Dreaming, who had an unorthodox week leading up the Derby, which included an equipment change and an exercise rider switch, has had a much smoother stay in Baltimore, despite still needing two handlers to walk from the stables to the track.  Pletcher talked about all of the changes made with Always Dreaming shortly after celebrating his second-career visit to the Kentucky Derby winners circle.

“We have to make adjustments all the time in training,” Pletcher eluded.  “I don’t recall having to do it in a high-profile situation, certainly not with a likely derby favorite.  I never had to do it like that.  Part of what we do as trainers is we observe how things are going with the horse, how they are galloping and sometimes we’ll have to make equipment adjustments, sometimes we’ll have to make rider adjustments.   The focus is to always do what’s best for the horse, and it was clear we needed to make adjustments, and we did it right.”

Both Pletcher and Velazquez have never won the Preakness Stakes as a team. 

But unlike the procedure taken with his other Derby winner, Super Saver, Pletcher and Always Dreaming arrived at Pimlico just days after the Derby, which he had done throughout AD's career, including the Florida Derby, in which the three-year-old won at Gulfstream back in April.

“The horse galloped exceptionally well on a daily basis all winter,” the trainer said.  “We shipped him to Gulfstream twice to run.  Both times we shipped him to Gulfstream, he galloped very kindly there, so I didn’t anticipate it would be any different (in Kentucky).”

“The most important thing to do is to bring the best horse to the Derby and that’s what we did this year,” Pletcher concluded confidently.

It will be a challenge, but the Triple Crown chase wasn’t built for the candy coated.  The step in the maturation, and the arduous direction of American Pharaoh begins now for Always Dreaming.

Preakness Field

PP   Horse    ML Odds   Jockey  Trainer
1. Multiplier  30-1  Joel Rosario, Brendan Walsh
2. Cloud Computing  12-1  Javier Castellano, Chad Brown
3. Hence  20-1  Florent Geroux, Steve Asmussen
4. Always Dreaming  4-5  John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher
5. Classic Empire  3-1  Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse
6. Gunnevera  15-1  Mike Smith, Antonio Sano
7. Term of Art  30-1  Jose Ortiz, Doug O' Neill
8. Senior Investment  30-1  Channing Hill, Kenny McPeek
9. Lookin At Lee  10-1  Corey Lanerie, Steve Asmussen
10. Conquest Mo Money  15-1  Jorge Careno, Miguel Hernandez
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