Few people watched that race more closely than Erin Birkenhauer. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who conditioned 2010 Kentucky Derby victor Super Saver, shipped Always Dreaming to Pimlico a week earlier than he had done with Super Saver in order to take advantage of the quiet surroundings before the majority of the Preakness contenders would arrive. "The thing is when they are battle tested with a 20-horse field in the Derby, this one here isn't as big an obstacle to overcome".
During the past 10 years, nine Preakness winners ran in the Kentucky Derby, the only exception being the great filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009, when the Kentucky Oaks victor also won the Preakness with only a two-week turnaround.
You can make a compelling case for Always Dreaming, the 4-5 morning line favorite.
Can Kentucky Derby victor Always Dreaming capture the second leg of the Triple Crown? I suspect the price on the second-favorite will even tick up a bit higher - to somewhere in the 7-2 to 4-1 range - and that's where the best value is.
Lights of Medina, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Feargal Lynch, beat third-place finisher Corporate Queen by two lengths. Classic Empire saved none of that ground, traveled wide and, according to Trakus data, he covered 75 feet more than Always Dreaming and 90 feet more than Lookin at Lee.
"That was our goal, to get a horse that one day got us to the Derby", Ms. McKenna said.
Always Dreaming is a victory away from setting up a bid for the Triple Crown. On the other other hand mediocre horses don't win Triple Crowns, history tells us. "I'm someone who has been in a lot of races and lost a lot of races, so I know you don't want to be overconfident, but I do feel very, very good about the way he's coming into it". The Kentucky Derby is 1/16, or half a furlong, longer, and the Belmont is 1 ½ miles. A good exotic horse, though, at 15-1. He finished nearly four lengths behind victor Hence in the Sunland Derby Mar. 26.
Classic Empire should be able to get away from the gate more cleanly this time and find a nice spot to follow Always Dreaming closely and then overtake him in the stretch. Classic Empire finished fourth in the Derby, but it was a creditable performance after a rough start, and he should do better Saturday. The jockey eased the colt off the rail so Always Dreaming could run free.
Well, maybe, but at 4-5 and 2-1, respectively, that's awful value. "I think Conquest Mo Money has been compromised a couple times in his last two starts and I think he's probably a little better than he looks on paper".
As you see, I really like Always Dreaming, but I think Classic Empire can turn the tables at the Preakness.
The horse will run under the ownership flag of Judge Lanier Racing (named after Tom's grandfather). Most top horses have at least a month in between races, but it will be just the two weeks for those Derby runners. He could be a factor late in the Preakness when he comes from behind. He tried to weave his way through, but couldn't catch Lookin At Lee or Always Dreaming.
There's a pair of 15-1 shots: Gunnevera (seventh in the Derby) and Conquest Mo Money, whose owners paid $150,000 to supplement their horse.
"Lee is going to run his race every time", said Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, who also has Hence, at 20-1, in the race.
And Pletcher thinks his charge is perfectly poised to this weekend keep alive the hope that he can achieve the Triple Crown.