Always Dreaming, Classic Empire feeling strong day before Preakness

May 19, 2017 | WNST Staff


BALTIMORE – Trainer Todd Pletcher followed form at Pimlico Race Course Friday and had Always Dreaming do exactly what he did the morning of May 5, the day before the colt won the Kentucky Derby (G1) – jog with the pony.

Why change? Always Dreaming won the Derby by 2 ¾ lengths and arrives at the 142nd Preakness (G1) on Saturday as the 4-5 morning-line favorite. He faces nine others in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown that is expected to be contested in ideal weather conditions.

“He had a good, strong gallop yesterday. We just wanted to go easy today,” Pletcher said. “It worked out really well. He was well-behaved, nice and quiet, and jogged around there enthusiastically. That’s it. He’ll just walk tomorrow morning and all of the preparations are done.

Pletcher said he was pleased with his decision to bring the sometimes overactive colt directly to quiet Pimlico from Churchill Downs three days after the Derby.

Always Dreaming will attempt to complete the Derby-Preakness double and move on to Belmont Park June 10 in position to try for a sweep of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Neither Pletcher nor Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has won the Preakness.

The son of Bodemeister was transferred to Pletcher’s barn in early September and has won his four races in 2017. How good is he? Pletcher didn’t hesitate to give an answer to that question.

“I think he’s pretty special,” Pletcher said. “We’re going to find out more, but when you look at what he has done this year, winning his first couple of races by open lengths, winning the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby by the margins he did, it’s pretty exceptional. It’s pretty rare that you see that.”

After assessing Always Dreaming, who was 0-for-2 at the time, at Saratoga, Pletcher gave him a break from training and sent him to Jim Crupi’s Florida farm. When he returned in November, the colt was moving more to his liking and looking like a Triple Crown prospect.

“We got a very, very favorable impression of him from the very beginning when we first started breezing him,” Pletcher said. “We started laying out plans to hopefully get there. You’ve got to see him come along and continue to develop and continue to improve, but he impressed us every single time we did something with him this winter and spring. He just kept stepping up and getting better and better, but was so consistent. All of his works were really strong. We were pretty enthusiastic early on.”

CLASSIC EMPIRE – John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire jogged about seven furlongs before galloping a mile Friday morning at Pimlico.

“He was on the bit this morning,” trainer Mark Casse said. “He was feeling good.”

Casse was encouraged by Classic Empire’s energy level.

“You know what I like about him is he’s eager to go to the track. This winter when we were having some issues, he kind of didn’t want to go to the track. Now he’s eager to go there and eager to train,” Casse said. “He’s going to be real happy when it cools off, too. That will really get him feeling well. We’re anxious for a little cooler weather. It was pretty hot.”

High temperatures are forecast to be in the upper 60s Saturday.

“Tomorrow he’ll just walk, and just chill,” said Casse, whose trainee finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby following a very troubled start and a wide trip.

CLOUD COMPUTING – Following an uneventful schooling session in the Pimlico paddock Thursday afternoon, Cloud Computing put in his final piece of training for Saturday’s Preakness with a Friday gallop at approximately 7 a.m.

Jose Hernandez, an assistant to trainer Chad Brown, said that Cloud Computing will walk the shedrow Saturday morning, usual practice for the stable on race day.

Brown is expected to be in Baltimore tomorrow to saddle Cloud Computing, his first Preakness starter, as well as Catapult and Projected in the $250,000 Longines Dixie (G2) – a race he won last year with Takeover Target – and Elysea’s World in the $150,000 Stella Artois Gallorette (G3), a stakes he has won three times since 2012.

CONQUEST MO MONEY – Might Judge Lanier Racing’s Conquest Mo Money use the speed he has shown this year to cruise from Post 10 and set the pace in the Preakness?

Trainer Miguel Hernandez wasn’t saying Friday but acknowledged that could be the strategy he and jockey Jorge Carreno might settle on.

“I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hernandez said after the New York-bred returned from a one-mile jog at Pimlico. “I know there are a couple of speed horses inside of me. My horse has speed too, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The only thing I told Jorge was, ‘Be ready.’ I don’t want to say exactly what I’d like to do, but my goal is to be close to the speed.”

Conquest Mo Money was acquired for $8,500 at the Conquest Stables’ dispersal sale in November and has compiled a 3-2-0 record in five starts in the Southwest. Judge Lanier owner Tom McKenna decided not to run him in the Kentucky Derby because he doesn’t like the chaos that can develop in 20-horse fields. He chose the Preakness for the colt’s Triple Crown series debut and paid $150,000 to supplement him to the race since he had not been nominated prior to running second in the Sunland Derby (G3) and the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Hernandez, a former jockey now in his third full season as McKenna’s private trainer, said he is confident that the colt is ready for the Preakness and will be with or near the leaders.

“He needs to be close to the pace,” Hernandez said. “He needs to be right there. He needs to be in the game right away. He can come from behind, too, but I don’t think he will be doing that tomorrow. That’s the day to be in the game right away.”

GUNNEVERA – Peacock Racing Stables’ Gunnevera galloped about 1 ½ miles Friday morning at Pimlico.

Exercise rider Victor O’Farrell allowed the son of Dialed In to finish his morning exercise with an open gallop.

“He’s doing very good,” trainer Antonio Sano said. “I’m feeling very positive.”

Gunnevera, who finished a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby, will be Sano’s first Preakness starter. Sano, the all-time leading trainer in Venezuela with more than 3,300 victories before venturing to South Florida, has named Mike Smith to ride his Fountain of Youth (G2) winner.

LOOKIN AT LEE, HENCE – Trainer Steve Asmussen was on hand to watch his Preakness Stakes hopefuls Lookin At Lee and Hence gallop a little more than a mile Friday morning at Pimlico.

“I’m very pleased with how they’re traveling and they’re acting,” said Asmussen, who had been overseeing his far-flung operation elsewhere, with chief assistant Scott Blasi at Pimlico with their stakes horses that will run Friday and Saturday. “I thought both of them came out of the Derby in very good physical shape. I expect big performances from them. But as we saw in the Derby, what other horses do is out of your control. Hoping for a good trip for both of them.”

Both Lookin At Lee and Hence are closers, though Hence has shown he can be more forwardly placed than his stablemate in the early stages of a race. A fast pace is particularly important to set up Lookin At Lee’s big late kick.

“It’s extremely critical for the race,” Asmussen said of the pace. “You do see a couple of horses that are capable of pace, three total possibly. If somebody isn’t away cleanly, it will change the complexion of the race tremendously. I’ve always said when you’re thinking about a race for an individual horse, you’re imagining the perfect scenario for that horse. That’s sometimes hard to create.”

One thing that makes Always Dreaming so tough is that he is a fast horse possessing the speed to stay out of trouble while also content to race behind a couple of horses if the pace is too demanding.

“He’s a horse that’s good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, so that’s a pretty good place to start,” Asmussen said of the difficulty of trying to beat a horse like Always Dreaming. “Your preparation is for the individuals you lead over. I do believe watching this year’s group of Preakness horses, it’s a very sound and attractive group of horses. It ought to be a very exciting race.

“The consistency that Lookin At Lee shows us through his travels as a 2-year-old as well into this year is what makes me an admirer of his. He just keeps showing up. You have a lot of faith that he’ll do the best he can, no matter how the race unfolds.”

In finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, Lookin At Lee became the first horse since third-place Risen Star in 1988 to finish in the top three after starting from the rail. Lookin At Lee handled with aplomb everything that comes with having the No. 1 post, including the worst congestion in the paddock, being unflappable enough to get a rail-hugging ride from 12-time Churchill Downs riding champ Corey Lanerie while others found themselves bogged down in traffic.

“We expected that of him,” Asmussen said of Lookin At Lee’s willingness to take whatever is handed to him. Like drawing the 1 hole, how much it affects a huge percent of horses and it didn’t affect him. He does not look for excuses. He makes the most of his opportunities and he doesn’t have to be rewarded to keep trying. I think that’s another quality we all wish we had.

“Corey suits Lookin At Lee. When we were thinking about the Derby and stuff, and all of Corey’s success at Churchill had a lot to do with him riding Lee in the Derby. But even at other racetracks, Corey’s consistency and attitude are very similar to Lookin At Lee’s.”

Hence, whom his connections believe didn’t offer his best effort in the slop while finishing 11th in the Derby, appears more finicky.

“Hence has shown brilliance, but he has lacked some consistency,” Asmussen said. “But with his ability, we’re hoping that tomorrow in the Preakness is one of his great days.”

MULTIPLIER – Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr’s Multiplier was on the Pimlico track for a 1 ¼-mile gallop Friday morning following a trip to the paddock Thursday to acquaint the Illinois Derby (G3) winner with his Preakness surroundings.

Joel Rosario, who came in from New York to ride on Friday’s card at Pimlico, will be aboard Multiplier for the first time in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“He’s ridden a lot for the new owners and he’s a fantastic rider,” said trainer Brendan Walsh, who will be saddling his first Classic runner. “He’s actually ridden quite a few times for me as well and we’ve had some luck with him. He’s one of the top riders in the country. He’s been through it all so I’m looking forward to having him on board. “

James Graham rode the son of The Factor in Illinois, but neither he nor previous rider Brian Hernandez had Preakness experience. This will be Rosario’s fourth mount in the race, in which he finished second in both 2014 (Ride On Curlin) and 2015 (Tale of Verve). He was third with Creative Cause in 2012 and fourth with Orb in 2013.

“He’s a pretty straightforward horse to ride, he just needs a little bit of encouragement just to show him where to be and what he needs to do,” said Walsh, who turned 45 this week. “Joel is a great rider, as are Jimmy and Brian, who rode him before. It’s great to have him on board.”

Multiplier, who won from the inside post in the Illinois Derby, also drew the rail for the Preakness. Only two horses have won from the No. 1 Post since 1960 – American Pharoah (2015) and Tabasco Cat (1994) – and only 10 ever took home the coveted Woodlawn Vase.

SENIOR INVESTMENT – Much like his two previous days on the grounds, Fern Circle Stables Preakness Stakes contender Senior Investment went to the Pimlico track just prior to 6 a.m. Friday and jogged about a mile to the 3/16ths pole and then galloped a mile and a half from there. McPeek remains confident in his improving Lexington (G2) winner, who has crossed the wire first in four of his previous five efforts.

“He did the same thing today,” McPeek said. “Everything’s good.”

Channing Hill, aboard for Senior Investment’s previous three starts, returns to ride and is slated to arrive at Pimlico around 10 a.m. Saturday. It will be the Nebraska native’s first Preakness starter.

TERM OF ART – Calumet Farm’s Term of Art has continued to impress assistant trainer Sabas Rivera while galloping 1 ¼ miles Friday morning at Pimlico.

“He was even better than yesterday,” Rivera said of the son of Tiznow, one of only two Preakness entrants without a victory as a 3-year-old [Lookin At Lee being the other]. “We’ll give him a jog tomorrow morning around 6 a.m.; he likes it here a lot.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill is returning blinkers to the colt’s equipment in hopes that he will outrun his 30-1 morning-line odds. He hopes the equipment change will have Term of Art a bit closer to the action than his last three starts without them. He was last midway down the backstretch in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and finished seventh.

“I know my horse doesn’t have a lot of gate speed, so we’ll be coming off the pace,” said O’Neill, who won the 2012 Preakness with I’ll Have Another. “There should be enough speed, which should help us.”

Tyler Baze rode Term of Art in his last three starts, his best finish being a third in the San Felipe (G2). O’Neill opted for an East Coast rider for the Preakness in New York-based Jose Ortiz. This will be Ortiz’s first Preakness mount.

“When I heard he was in town and didn’t have a mount in the Preakness, it was a no-brainer for me,” O’Neill said.