Always Dreaming âSitting on Goâ for Saturdayâs Preakness Classic Empire âFocused and Happyâ for Morning Gallop
BALTIMORE â After training Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming early Thursday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher told the crowd at the annual Alibi Breakfast that his colt is ready for Saturdayâs 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
âThe horse is doing unbelievably well in the two-week turnaround,â Pletcher said. âThe way heâs moving, the way heâs acting, the way heâs getting over the track, we feel really blessed that heâs coming into the race this way. Iâm someone who has been in a lot of races and lost a lot of races, so I know you donât want to be overconfident, but I do feel very, very good about the way heâs coming into it.â
Since Always Dreaming was aggressive and sometimes hard to handle during training prior to the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher opted to send the son of Bodemeister to Baltimore three days after the Derby to relax while being prepped for the Preakness.
Always Dreaming: https://youtu.be/Xd4YGBjE3Z0 Todd Pletcher: https://youtu.be/Gmjt2fzXa1M
âI think we got exactly what we hoped we would get when we got here, a good, quiet setting,â Pletcher said. âThe horse was able to settle in very well and have a relatively peaceful first week. We anticipated that things would build up this week with other horses coming in, and more people coming in. I think that initial week to settle in was beneficial. At this point, heâs just sitting on go and weâre hoping to keep him that way for another 48 hours.â
Always Dreaming galloped about 1 Â½ miles at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and Pletcher was satisfied with what he saw.
âI thought he had a very strong, enthusiastic, contained gallop,â Pletcher said. âHeâs giving us a great feel and shown us everything weâre hoping for, leading back in two weeks. The tank seems full. He seems eager to go. Weâre just trying to keep him on the ground one more day.â
Always Dreaming drew Post 4 in the field of 10 and is the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Just to his outside in the starting gate will be Classic Empire, the 2016 2-year-old champion who finished fourth in the Derby despite being knocked around in a collision a few steps out of the gate.
âI think itâs an ideal spot for Classic Empire,â Pletcher said. âIf I were them, I would be happy with that post. I would imagine that they are going to target us and the target is right next to you. It probably gives him a little bit of a tactical advantage from that perspective. Weâre just focused on hopefully breaking cleanly and smoothly and letting him run to the first turn a little bit.
âI think Johnny (Velazquez) will get a sense of how much speed the other horses are showing,â he added. âOn paper, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money (Post 10) are the horses that have consistently shown the most speed. As you know, gates open, things change. On paper thatâs where it seems like most of the pace will come from.â
CLASSIC EMPIRE â John C. Oxleyâs Classic Empire jogged a mile and galloped a mile Thursday morning at Pimlico.
âHe was focused and happy. I walked him out to the track this morning and he was eager to get there. Sometimes heâs not as eager, especially this winter,â said trainer Mark Casse, referring to the 2016 2-year-old championâs well-documented reluctance to train at times during the winter. âHe was ready to go and do his job.â
Casse views the smaller field and a post position [Post No. 5] that is directly outside that of Always Dreaming as significant factors that could help Classic Empire move forward in the Preakness after enduring a trouble-packed fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Yet, he acknowledges the daunting task that faces Classic Empire in his bid to get the better of the Kentucky Derby winner.
Classic Empire: https://youtu.be/pmnljZBuMHo Mark Casse: https://youtu.be/tiYDGdU24_k
âIf anything I have a greater respect for Always Dreaming. I think heâs going to be tougher to beat than I thought he would be going into the Derby,â Casse said.
The side-by-side post positions are expected to heighten the drama during the early stages of the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
âToddâs horse has rated before, but I think he rated on the outside. Now heâs going to have to rate on the inside. I would be really surprised if you donât see Conquest Mo Money [Post No. 10] up in the picture early,â Casse said. âI love [Always Dreaming and Classic Empire] being side by side, and I like it a lot better that weâre outside and heâs inside. The startâs going to be important. It allows us to have more options. Always Dreaming, he has one of the best riders in the world, so Iâm sure Johnny (Velazquez) will figure it out.â
Casse was asked if had envisioned an ideal trip for Classic Empire.
âIf I could draw it out, Always Dreaming would go full tilt and him and Conquest Mo Money going at it for about three-quarters of a mile, and we sit behind them and watch,â he said. âThatâs my dream. That wonât happen, but you asked.â
Julien Leparoux has the return mount aboard the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner.
CLOUD COMPUTING â In an operation such as trainer Chad Brownâs, where shipping around the country to run in stakes is the norm, having personnel you can count on is paramount to the stableâs success.
Brown, always generous in his gratitude to his staff when speaking to the media, dispatched traveling assistant Jose Hernandez to Maryland this week to supervise the training of four horses, including the trainerâs first Preakness starter, Cloud Computing. The third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial (G2) arrived in Baltimore Tuesday afternoon, along with Catapult and Projected, who are both running in Saturdayâs Longines Dixie (G2), and Elyseaâs World, an entrant in Saturdayâs Stella Artois Gallorette (G3).
Hernandez, a native of Mexico, has worked for the Eclipse Award-winning conditioner for nine years. His stellar resume also features stints in the barns of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.
After Cloud Computing visited the track for a good-looking gallop Thursday morning, Hernandez spoke with enthusiasm about his position in the Brown barn.
âWhen I first came to Chad, I was a foreman and then became an assistant,â Hernandez, 41, said. âIâve been traveling with his horses for seven years already â Arlington, Santa Anita, wherever he needs me. Itâs an unbelievable job. I love what I do, and Chad is a nice guy to work for.â
Cloud Computing was scheduled to school in the paddock during Race 3 Thursday. Elyseaâs World will visit the paddock for Race 5, and Catapult and Projected will follow in Race 6.
CONQUEST MO MONEY â Judge Lanier Stableâs Conquest Mo Money who has made his name in the Southwest, galloped two miles for jockey Jorge Carreno Thursday morning. Trainer Miguel Hernandez oversaw the exercise session on a warm sunny day two days before saddling his first horse in a Triple Crown race.
Hernandez, 51, is in his third full season as a trainer. The native of Mexico City suffered a career-ending back injury in July 2013 in a spill at Ruidoso Downs. Late in 2014, he saddled the first horse in what was the next chapter of his life. Conquest Mo Money has carried Hernandez and the other members of the New Mexico-based stable to the Preakness with runner-up finishes in the Sunland Derby (G3) and the Arkansas Derby.
âItâs like a dream for us to come this far, this fast, to be a trainer,â Hernandez said. âIâve never thought about having a stakes horse like this and being here. I didnât want to be in New Mexico forever and never come out. To come here is totally different.â
As the private trainer for Tom McKennaâs Judge Lanier Stable, Hernandez is working for a strong regional organization. He has 26 horses in his barn right now and on May 5 saddled the 100th winner of his career in his 577th start. Not all jockeys can make the transition to training, but Hernandez has been very successful.
âWhen I was riding I was asking the trainer, âWhat are you doing with this horse?ââ he said. âI tried to learn before I became a trainer. I didnât think I was going to be a trainer that soon, but it came to me and it was good for me to learn how. Now, Iâm learning faster than before.â
With Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas sitting outside a stall 30 feet away, Hernandez acknowledged with a smile and a nod that Preakness Week at Pimlico is unlike the third week in May at the tracks he usually works at.
âA lot different. You know a lot of people, the big guys like Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher,â he said. âIâm honored to follow those guys and learn from the big trainers. This is a good experience for us. The people are really friendly. The horses are totally different, really classy stakes horses. Itâs really nice.â
GUNNEVERA â Peacock Racing Stablesâ Gunnevera went to the Pimlico track Thursday morning for an easy gallop under exercise rider Victor OâFarrell. The Antonio Sano-trained colt had been allowed to finish Wednesdayâs morning exercise with a strong three-furlong open gallop.
Sano is confident that the Fountain of Youth (G2) winner can improve on his troubled seventh-place finisher in the Derby on a sloppy Churchill racetrack.
âFor me, he is better than he was before the Derby, stronger,â said Sano, who saddled more than 3,300 winners in Venezuela before venturing to the U.S. in 2009. âHe likes this track and the weather Saturday looks good.â
Hall of Famer Mike Smith is slated to ride Gunnevera for the first time Saturday.
LOOKIN AT LEE, HENCE â Corey Lanerie has ridden only one day before at Pimlico. That was Preakness Day last year, his only dirt race being the Preakness.
In a race eerily similar to 2017 Preakness contender Lookin At Leeâs runner-up Kentucky Derby performance with Lanerie, Cherry Wine broke on the rail, racing over a sloppy track, and came from well off the pace to finish second while staying on the inside throughout. The only difference is that Cherry Wine hit his head on the gate and stumbled at the start. Lookin At Lee broke well in the Derby but, being devoid of early speed, soon was in front of only a couple of horses.
âFrom what I can remember, the (Pimlico) rail is a little different,â Lanerie said by phone from Louisville, Ky., comparing it to Churchill Downs. âI didnât ride that many last year, maybe a couple of turf races. Iâd never been to Pimlico before.â
In fact, he was last and fourth in a pair of turf stakes before the Preakness, in which Cherry Wine rallied to finish second to Derby runner-up Exaggerator.
Now Lanerie is on the Derby runner-up, and Lookin At Lee breaks from Post 9 of 10 instead of 1 of 20.
âThey both want to relax and make one run,â he said of Cherry Wine and Lookin At Lee. âI think Lookin At Lee looks like heâll go a little farther than Cherry Wine did. We had a fast pace last year, with Nyquist, and they kind of collapsed and we came running and picked up some pieces. That was kind of our goal there: to save some horse and come running at the end. I think weâre going into it (this year), thinking we have a really good shot to win it. So weâll be looking to get the whole thing, not just finishing. But itâs pretty much the same scenario. Getting them to relax and then just kind of finding my way, whether thatâs on the rail or coming around horses.
âIn the Preakness, I do feel like weâre going to need some help, a little bit more luck with Always Dreaming, because he looked mighty tough and weâre going a little shorter this time,â he added. âItâs a totally different race, but I love the way my horse finishes. Heâs taken on everything you could throw at him. Always Dreaming hasnât had many obstacles to face. Maybe heâs that good that he wonât encounter trouble. But you never know.â
L and N Racing's Lookin At Lee and his stablemate Hence, who finished 11th in the Derby, had their regular Thursday session of standing in the starting gate. They went to the gate, stood, then galloped a mile. Both colts were to school during Race 4 Thursday and are slated to train early Friday.
âWe walked quite a bit, just let them look around and relax,â Scott Blasi, trainer Steve Asmussenâs chief assistant who accompanied the horses on a pony, said in reference to the half-mile trek to the starting gate. âThere was kind of a nice breeze out there. It was a lot cooler out there than back here at the barn. We went for a little stroll, stood in the gate and galloped a mile. They were great in the gate. The gate crew here is awesome.â
The Calumet Farm-owned Hence, the impressive Sunland Derby winner in his start before the Kentucky Derby, has gone from being a âbuzzâ horse at Churchill Downs to being virtually ignored at Pimlico, his 20-1 morning-line odds topped only by a trio of 30-1 shots in the field of 10.
âSteve thinks he just hopped up and down in the slop,â Blasi said of Hence. âThe forecast is good and hopefully he has a more honest account of himself. Heâs a beautiful horse, and both horses are traveling beautiful.â
MULTIPLIER â Illinois Derby (G3) winner Multiplier galloped about 1 Â¼ miles with exercise rider Asael Gonzalez at Pimlico Thursday morning for Preakness rookie trainer Brendan Walsh. Multiplier drew the often-maligned No. 1 post position in the field of 10.
âI wasnât thinking about it last night, but he actually had drawn the 1 in Illinois as well,â said Walsh, shortly before a paddock schooling for his colt. âSo I donât think itâs going to make that much of a difference with 10 runners.â
The son of The Factor rallied around horses and ran down favored Hedge Fund to win by a head at 1 1/8 miles at Hawthorne on April 22. It was his second win in only four career starts and prompted his private sale from American Equistock to a group headed by MGM movie mogul Gary Barber.
âOn his last run, I think he fits,â Walsh said. âIf the pace is slow, heâll be closer. If not, heâll be a ways farther back. Heâll come running at the end. Iâm sure of that. Heâs a fresh horse again. Heâs had some time since Illinois (four weeks).â
Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem, in 2002, was the last Illinois Derby winner to capture the Preakness, and Walsh can take some encouragement from the fact that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won this race two years ago from the inside post position.
For now, Walsh is just happy to be here. As a former assistant to Eddie Kenneally and and a former assistant trainer for Godolphin for nearly a decade, Walsh has paid his dues.
âIâve had a couple of Breedersâ Cup runners [Daylaami and Fantastic Light as an assistant], but this is my first Classic runner, so itâs very special,â he said. âThis is where every trainer wants to be. Hopefully itâs the first of many. Youâd like to have horses like this every year.â
SENIOR INVESTMENT â Fern Circle StablesâSeniorInvestmentwent out Thursday morning at 5:45 a.m. for his second stroll ofthe Pimlico main track. The son of Discreetly Mine jogged and then turned backat the three-sixteenths pole.
Senior Investment: https://youtu.be/_9Ra3qhYmLU
âI had him go to where the race starts and then broke off into a gallop,â trainer Kenny McPeek said. âHeâs doing great. The post is good. Iâm happy.â
Channing Hill will ride from Post No. 8. Hill has been aboard for his previous three starts, including a dominant allowance victory at Oaklawn, a somewhat troubled sixth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at the Fair Grounds and then a nose win last out in the Lexington (G2) at Keeneland on just two weeksâ rest.
âItâs a good post, but to be honest, the post isnât a big deal with him,â Hill said. âAny post would have been perfect. Heâs obviously very place-able and does whatever I ask him. I donât think he could have won the Louisiana Derby, but he had an inside trip and Iâve learned to keep him clear. I donât have to be outside with him, I just have to keep things out of his way. After the Oaklawn win, I have been very high on him. I thought I was going to win by a length that day and he really sprinted out. He really has great turn of foot.
âLast out I had plenty of horse left after the Lexington,â Hill continued. âHe really galloped out. I donât know about other peoplesâ horses, but I know my horse will do what I want and nothing fazes him. I think I have a legitimate chance to run 1-2-3.â
TERM OF ART â Calumet Farmâs Term of Art, one of the three longest morning-line shots in the Preakness field at odds of 30-1, went to the track Thursday morning shortly after 8:30 with exercise rider Johnny Garcia aboard for assistant trainer Sabas Rivera.
The Doug OâNeill trainee jogged a quarter mile counterclockwise before turning and galloping 1 Â¼ miles.
âThe rider said he feels good. He handled the track very well. He wasnât breathing hard,â Sabas said.
OâNeill hopes that Term of Art is a bit of a late-bloomer like his sire, Tiznow, who was known to be quirky and didnât graduate from the maiden ranks until his third start. Tiznow went on to become the 2000 Horse of the Year after winning the first of two consecutive Breedersâ Cup Classics (G1).
âWe hope heâs going to have a future,â said OâNeill, who won the 2012 Preakness with his first starter in this race, Kentucky Derby winner Iâll Have Another. Last year his Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist could only manage a third-place finish.
Tiznow has produced only one Classic winner to date, that being 2005 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Daâ Tara for trainer Nick Zito. However, Tiznowâs full sister, Tizamazing, is the dam of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbox for Calumet.
West Coast riders Joe Talamo and Tyler Baze have ridden Term of Art during a nine-race career that has produced two wins, a second and two thirds, but OâNeill is going with East Coast-based Jose Ortiz for the Preakness. OâNeill said he is taking a red-eye flight from California on Friday and will be here for the race on Saturday.