By Kevin Martin
Always Dreaming and his trainer Todd Pletcher proved their skeptics wrong with a resounding win in the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6th. The skepticism that surrounded the horse and his trainer will follow the pair north to Baltimore for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. The primary concern being Pletcher’s ability to run his horse back on two weeks rest in a race where he has had few runners and little success.
Pletcher has saddled eight runners in the Preakness without a win, a statistic likely to be heard often leading into Saturday. His best finish came with third place finisher Red Bullet in 2000. Super Saver, his only other previous Kentucky Derby winner, ran a dismal race in the Preakness and finished eighth. Always Dreaming has already shown in just six career starts that he’s more talented than Super Saver, who happened to run the race of his life on the best day possible. Where Pletcher’s previous Derby winner’s career peaked on the first Saturday in May, his winner this year seems to be getting better with every start and has potential to develop into an elite 3-year-old. Always Dreaming will be the favorite for the Preakness and the horse to beat.
Classic Empire looms a major threat to wipe out any hope for a Triple Crown try in New York on June 11th. The 2-year-old champion had a nightmare trip in the Kentucky Derby. He was on the wrong end of a chain reaction that started with a poor break out of the gate from Irish War Cry and ended with Classic Empire being slammed by the horse to his outside. He ran at least twelve lengths off the leader in the backstretch, the furthest he had ever trailed in a race. With a rally on the final turn, while running extremely wide, he finished a valiant fourth. With a better trip, he would have had a chance to catch the winner. On Saturday he will get another shot at Always Dreaming. Few would be surprised should Classic Empire add a Preakness win to an already stellar career resume.
Lookin at Lee had a dream trip along the rail in the Kentucky Derby, resulting in a second place finish at odds of 33 to 1. He has finished in the top three in seven of ten career starts but has never won a graded stakes race. His off-the-pace, late running style has not proven to be a style that wins the second leg of the Triple Crown. Even though Lookin at Lee has cashed big checks in big races, he hasn’t crossed the finish line first since last July. His sire, Lookin at Lucky, won the 2010 Preakness but he is unlikely to get his first stakes win on Saturday. Gunnevera, like Classic Empire, had to deal with traffic soon after leaving the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby. He passed horses while racing wide in the final turn but flattened out when they hit the stretch. He finished seventh, a distant thirteen lengths behind the winner. With three graded stakes wins in his ten race career, he has the proven class to win on Saturday. Gunnerva will be ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith who won the Preakness back in 1993 aboard Prairie Bayou.
Among the runners entering the Preakness that didn’t start in the Kentucky Derby, Conquest Mo Money seems the most promising of the bunch. He set a fast pace and finished a half length behind Classic Empire in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in his last start. He will be among the long shots on Saturday and will be on or very close to the lead from the start. He will have a number of late runners to fend off in the stretch but he is a game runner who has a chance to hang on for a top three finish.
Post time for the Preakness Stakes is 6:45 EST.
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