BALTIMORE – Trainer Todd Pletcher gave a very positive review of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming after the colt galloped once around Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning in preparation for the May 20 Preakness Stakes (G1).
With exercise rider Nick Bush aboard, Always Dreaming made one circuit of the track at 6 a.m., shortly after sunrise on a gray, damp and subsequently rainy day in Baltimore. Always Dreaming was shipped from Kentucky to Maryland on Tuesday and had an easy jog Wednesday morning. Pletcher was on hand Thursday for the gallop and said he likes what he is seeing.
“He continues to show us all of the positive signals that we’re looking for,” Pletcher said. “His energy level has been good since the race. He handled the ship well. His appetite has been good. I thought he had a real good gallop over the track this morning. It’s kind of what we were looking for, a tranquil, quiet setting, He was focused and on the bridle, but he wasn’t as super-aggressive as he was at Churchill. It’s one of those things; you want him to be a little bit aggressive, not quite as much as he was at Churchill. That’s why we came in early. I thought we’d have a quiet setting here, which appears as though we do, at least for the moment anyways. We’re happy.”
While noting all the positives, Pletcher said the short time between the Derby and the Preakness is always a worry for horsemen.
“Like everyone coming back from the Derby, your biggest concern is trying to repeat a top performance in 14 days,” he said. “Based off the strength of his race and the way he seems to have come out of it so far, we’re really happy.”
Always Dreaming started his racing career in 2016 with New York-based trainer Dominic Schettino. He was transferred to Pletcher’s care in late summer following the second of two sprint races. He returned to competition in January and carries a four-race winning streak into the 142nd Preakness. Pletcher said the improvement had much to do with Always Dreaming moving into two-turn races that better suited his running style.
“We had him for a short period of time at Saratoga after he ran. We galloped him a couple of days and he just didn’t seem like he was moving quite the way we wanted to,” Pletcher said. “We sent him down to Jim Crupi’s farm in Ocala (Fla.). They gave him a little bit of time off and pretty much since he’s come back to us he’s trained fantastic. We felt like he’s a horse that wanted to run long and that’s what we did. We ran him long at Tampa first time out. Dominic Schettino had him before and did a good job with him. He ran well both times he ran him, he just probably was running a little short of his ideal distance.
With just four starts and his races spaced out this year, Pletcher said that Always Dreaming looks to be on an upward trajectory.
“I think he is continuing to improve, actually,” Pletcher said. “The first two races were so easy for him that I don’t think that we really took much out of him. The Florida Derby seemed to bring him forward another notch and I think the Derby was even a stronger performance than that. Just by his physical makeup, I think that he’s a horse that hopefully can continue to even get better than he already is.”
Pletcher has won many important races during his distinguished career, including the Derby with Super Saver, but has spent the early part of the week dealing with the demands that come with capturing the Run for the Roses.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he said. “A lot of phone calls, a lot of responses to emails, texts and calls and interviews. I had forgotten how much goes along with having the Derby winner, but it’s good stuff. I enjoyed it. It’s starting to sink in a little bit. It’s pretty cool.”
In addition to coming to Pimlico earlier than he did with Super Saver in 2010, Pletcher has decided not to put the colt through a timed workout between the first two legs of the Triple Crown series.
“I don’t think there is enough to gain out of a breeze,” Pletcher said. “He’s doing well. He’s super fit; I’m not concerned about that. The obvious change is that we shipped in early. That was more just because I never felt like he relaxed on the racetrack when he was at Churchill. From my previous experience being here at Pimlico, I knew it was pretty quiet leading up to next week anyways. What we got out there this morning is exactly what I was hoping for. I think there was one or two other horses on the track while he was training and that quiet environment is going to allow him to fill back up
Shirreffs on Hand to Supervise Royal Mo’s Morning Gallop
Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss’ Royal Mo stretched his legs during a morning gallop at Pimlico Race Course Thursday under the watchful eye of trainer John Shirreffs, who once again employed local aspiring jockey Taylor Leatherman to ride the son of Uncle Mo.
“He galloped very well today. Taylor did a terrific job with him. I asked her to let him pick it up at the end and he picked it up nicely,” said Shirreffs, whose Preakness candidate jogged on his first trip to the Pimlico track Wednesday. “I thought Taylor did a perfect job on the horse for someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to ride him very much. At this late stage and with a horse as far along as he is, she did a super job.”
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens has the mount aboard Royal Mo for the Preakness.
Royal Mo topped the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Derby but was excluded from the 20-horse field on a basis of qualifying points, despite winning the Robert Lewis (G3) and finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
“We were very disappointed. We’d hoped we’d get in, but things don’t change much after the last work. At that point, I didn’t think anything was going to happen,” Shirreffs said.
Shirreffs, who saddled Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo for a third-place finish in the 2005 Preakness and Mr. Commons for an eighth-place finish in the 2013 edition, hesitated to venture a guess how Royal Mo would have fared in the Derby had he drawn into the race
“It’s hard to predict. The Derby is about being in the right place at the right time, getting a break. A lot of things have to go well, so I don’t think I can predict that,” he said.
After the fact, Shirreffs is happy to bring a fresh horse to the Preakness.
“I think it’s probably a little bit of an advantage to have a fresh horse,” he said. “He’s going to work either Saturday or Sunday depending upon the track conditions here with what the weather’s doing. If he works well over the track, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Sano Gives Gunnevera a Change of Pace Thursday A.M.
Trainer Antonio Sano continues to vary the training for Gunnevera, the Kentucky Derby seventh-place finisher who won Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth (G2) and was third in the Florida Derby (G1). On Tuesday, Gunnevera jogged two miles. Wednesday he jogged a mile with the pony and then galloped a mile, and Thursday he jogged 1 1/2 miles and had a slow gallop for a half-mile.
“My dad arrives here tonight (Thursday),” said Alessandro Sano, who has been overseeing Gunnevera’s training while his father returned to Florida for a few days. “He has some different plans for the morning, a different routine. From there, we should be all set to go for Saturday morning (when he is scheduled to van to Baltimore from Louisville).
“We’ve been trying to mix up his training, so he doesn’t get bored doing the same thing all the time,” Alessandro Sano said. “So tomorrow it will be a different thing, just to keep the horse happy.”
Because overnight and morning rain resulted in a sealed (packed down) racetrack, assistant trainer Norman Casse opted to have John Oxley’s Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Classic Empire jog a mile instead of galloping at Churchill Downs. Casse runs the Kentucky operation for his dad, trainer Mark Casse. Classic Empire, the Arkansas Derby winner and last year’s 2-year-old champion, is scheduled to resume galloping Friday. He is vanning to Baltimore Sunday.
Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier had a routine gallop at Keeneland Thursday. He is scheduled to work Sunday and, in a change of plans, will van to Baltimore Tuesday with Pimlico Special-bound stablemate Conquest Windycity, trainer Brendan Walsh said.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee and 11th-place stablemate Hence both had easy days, cantering with the pony to the starting gate for their normal Thursday schooling session, where they stand and back out of the gate before completing a mile gallop at Churchill Downs. Both colts are scheduled to work easy half-miles on Monday and fly to Baltimore Tuesday. Assistant trainer Scott Blasi said the duo likely will wait for paddock schooling at Pimlico.
Senior Investment, Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes (G3) winner, had a routine gallop at Keeneland, said trainer Kenny McPeek.