Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Sport | By Gary Shelton

Todd Pletcher takes sure and steady approach to Preakness

Todd Pletcher takes sure and steady approach to Preakness

With a victory, Always Dreaming would head to the Belmont Stakes in NY three weeks later with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. There are five newcomers to the Triple Crown - Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, Senior Investment, and Term of Art - and with a field of 10, the Preakness has half the number of runners as the Derby.

The Triple Crown was recently achieved by American Pharoah in 2015 - the first to do so since Affirmed in 1978 - but there have been plenty of other 21st-century instances of horses keeping alive the feat heading to the Belmont Stakes. With less chance to get bumped in the smaller field and with distance not an issue, Empire will break the hearts of those who were hoping to see a Triple Crown Contender.

"You're definitely influenced by the personality of the horse going in", Asmussen said. "The way he's moving, the way he's acting, the way he's getting over the track, we feel really blessed that he's coming into the race this way".

Also, there's something to be said for the tradition of running a Triple Crown race at a track that once hosted Seabiscuit, Man O' War, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

"I thought he had a very strong, enthusiastic, contained gallop". While his last effort was pretty poor based on what we've seen this colt capable of doing, it's a definite positive sign to see that he made up ground and closed for third.

"The tank seems full", trainer Todd Pletcher said. He seems eager to go.

"There's more anxiety when you have the Derby victor and you're going for the Preakness and he's favorite, so that part is different but preparation-wise you're trying to do everything you can to have him the best you can on the day", added Pletcher. Much like the most notorious "bad boy" in the NBA, Classic Empire has a bad attitude. Always Dreaming, the 4-5 program favorite for the Preakness, won the Derby by 2 3/4 lengths over Lookin At Lee with a stalk-and-pounce trip. The Casses - Mark Casse and Norm Casse - that train Classic Empire, they had dealt with so much this past winter.

But even still, Casse conceded the ground he has to make up on the Derby victor was large. He finds a new jockey in Mike Smith and I always look at the addition of someone of his caliber as a positive thing. "I think it'll be a great race".

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Kentucky Derby victor Always Dreaming, walks to a barn at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Thursday, May 18, 2017.

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First run in 1873, the Preakness Stakes was named by a former Maryland governor after a winning colt at Pimlico.

"That's the way I have always trained", he said. When nobody's kicking mud in your face, you tend to run a bit better than when 19 other animals are throwing muck back at you. That was kind of our goal there; to save some horse and come running at the end.

"He's the champ and we're just going to go after him". He was on the rail chasing the horse that was going to collapse, setting him up perfectly to gallop to victory. With the other speed horse, Conquest Mo Money, coming out of the No. 10, jockey John Velazquez, who will once again pilot the Derby victor, needs to keep his mount from getting trapped along the rail by the horses to his outside.

When Doug O'Neill arrived with I'll Have Another in 2011, he couldn't get over the hospitality at Pimlico, and of that of the entire city.

"He's had a lot of things thrown at him, and he continues to fight back".

Is Always Dreaming still the horse that was almost three lengths better than runner-up Lookin At Lee and at least seven lengths better than everybody else? Maybe he's that good that he won't encounter trouble. "You know great coaches are the ones that make halftime adjustments".

Trainer Steve Asmussen could send Sunland Park Derby victor Hence (11th in Kentucky) out to battle for the lead, which might be his best chance.

He captured the Belmont Stakes by a head over Strike the Gold, which sealed his championship that year.

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