Baltimore — Always Dreaming has run away from the competition in four consecutive victories this year, winning by a combined 23 1/4 lengths.
The dark bay colt was never challenged in winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
Whether he does it again in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico today depends on a good trip, the tactics by his nine rivals and a little luck. Always Dreaming is the early 4-5 favorite under jockey John Velazquez.
“Always Dreaming hasn’t had many obstacles to face,” said Corey Lanerie, who will ride Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee. “Maybe he’s that good that he won’t encounter trouble.
“But you never know.”
After three consecutive days of 90-plus-degree heat, the forecast calls for a high of 68 and cloudy skies when the race goes off about 6:48 p.m. EDT.
Always Dreaming is a victory away from setting up a bid for the Triple Crown.
Two years ago, American Pharoah became the first horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years.
“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,” trainer Todd Pletcher said, “but I do feel very, very good about the way he’s coming into it.”
In the Preakness, Always Dreaming will break from the No. 4 post, a spot that has produced 13 winners but none since Curlin in 2007. One spot over on his outside will be Classic Empire, last year’s 2-year-old champion who finished fourth in the Derby after getting knocked around coming out of the starting gate.
“If anything, I have a greater respect for Always Dreaming,” said Mark Casse, who trains Classic Empire.
“I think he’s going to be tougher to beat than I thought he would be going into the Derby.”
As the Derby champion, Always Dreaming will have a bulls-eye on his back in a smaller field going a shorter distance than two weeks ago.
“I would imagine that they are going to target us and the target is right next to you,” Pletcher said. “We’re just focused on hopefully breaking cleanly and smoothly and letting him run to the first turn a little bit.”
Neither Velazquez nor Pletcher has won the Preakness. Velazquez is 0 for 7, with his best finish being second in 2011 aboard Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Pletcher is 0 for 8, with his highest finish coming in 2000 when Impeachment was third.
Conquest Mo Money, a 15-1 shot, has consistently run at or near the lead in his five career races. Always Dreaming and Classic Empire also have shown speed.
Casse’s ideal scenario involves Always Dreaming and Conquest Mo Money dueling in the early stages.
If the pace is too fast, it gives closers a chance to make a winning run at the end.
“We sit behind and watch,” he said.
Even with Always Dreaming’s dominance this year, eight of the past 12 Derby winners did not win the Preakness.
There’s a posse of contenders that would love to extend that history.
One of them is Conquest Mo Money, who supplemented to the Preakness for $150,000.
He could use his speed to pressure Always Dreaming early or go for the lead outright. Another is Cloud Computing, who figures to be sitting just off the leaders.
Lookin At Lee is a closer who could come running late under Lanerie.
“I love the way my horse finishes,” he said. “He’s taken on everything you could throw at him.”
Long-shot Actress won the Black-Eyed Susan, breaking her maiden in the prestigious Grade II race for 3-year-old fillies.
Sloshing over a sloppy track at Pimlico Race Course, Actress held off Lights of Medina by a head.
It was her third career race. Ridden by Nik Juarez, the filly paid $27.60, $10.60 and $7.80.
Fire put out
A grease fire broke out at Pimlico before the gates opened .
There were no reported injuries and racing proceeded as scheduled.
The fire started about 9 a.m. in a fried-chicken stand on the first floor of the grandstand and was extinguished by the time the Baltimore fire department responded.
When: 6:48 tonight
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore
Favorite: Always Dreaming
2016 winner: Exaggerator
1. Multiplier, 30-1
2. Cloud Computing, 12-1
3. Hence, 20-1
4. Always Dreaming, 4-5
5. Classic Empire, 3-1
6. Gunnevera, 15-1
7. Term of Art, 30-1
8. Senior Investment, 30-1
9. Lookin at Lee, 10-1
10. Conquest Mo Money, 15-1