Eight Preakness Factors
Kentucky Derby #143 has been recorded in the history books and attention shifts to Maryland and the Preakness Stakes. The question on everyone’s lips is, “Does he have what it takes to win the Triple Crown?” I’m talking, of course, about the sensational Always Dreaming, who collected his fourth consecutive victory in his toughest test yet in the Kentucky Derby.
The free-running colt is poised to become our second Triple Crown hero this century, following on the heels of American Pharoah’s feat in 2015.
Since 2000, seven Kentucky Derby Champs carried their win-streak through the Preakness Stakes, but only one, American Pharoah, kept his winning ways intact in the Belmont Stakes.
Always Dreaming traveled to Pimlico as a relatively fresh horse. He’ll be making his fifth start since the beginning of the year. He captured his four victories this year by over 22 lengths.
Just like the previous Kentucky Derby heroes, Always Dreaming is the overwhelming favorite to triumph in the second Triple Crown event. From 1984 – 2000, only six favorites captured the Preakness. However, there was a string of five years, from 2001 – 2005 when the favorite won, and three of the last five Preakness events were captured by the favorites.
Does Always Dreaming’s running style fit the Preakness?
That brings us to running styles in the Preakness. There’s a wildly held theory that inside speed rules at Pimlico. Speed defined as a horse that runs on or within two lengths of the lead.
Since 2000, this has been true half of the time, and only three horses, the phenomenal Rachel Alexandra, 2012’s surprise, Oxbow, and American Pharoah in 2015 have wired the field. Six Preakness champs since 2000 proved that they could sit between fourth and tenth place and still get the job done. Remember, the 1 3/16 mile race distance is only half a furlong shorter (330 feet) than the Kentucky Derby, so a horse that is suspect to navigate the nine to ten furlong range won’t find the Preakness a cakewalk. Last year, Nyquist’s Triple Crown hopes were dashed after he dueled through suicidal early fractions. It’s a possibility that the same thing will happen to Always Dreaming, although John Velazquez likely wouldn’t let the sometimes fractious colt fall into that trap.
Pimlico Turning Point
What about the tight turns? The turns at Pimlico aren’t any tighter than those at Churchill.
Both tracks are a mile oval, but Pimlico is 50 feet narrower, and the stretch is 1,152 feet compared to Churchill’s 1,234. Our Derby champ is extremely athletic and has proven that he can cut corners, and play catch me if you can in the stretch.
Tactical speed is beneficial at Pimlico. Since Always Dreaming is a natural pace presser/setter, he should be able to track the front running speed and unleash his powerful kick as they hit the stretch. He proved as a two year old that he can run his own race and isn’t hampered by what is going on around him. The good horses do that.
What About the Jock?
While he’s captured the Kentucky Derby twice, John Velazquez doesn’t have a Preakness trophy sitting on his shelf. He’s ridden in the Preakness only seven times. The Hall of Fame rider placed second twice – with Kentucky Derby hero Animal Kingdom in 2011 and in 2013 with Itsmyluckyday. Last year, he was fourth with Stradivari.
Velazquez hails from Puerto Rico and set down roots in the US in 1990. He’s been consistently among the top four National Earners for the last fourteen years.
Reviewing the Trainers
Although he’s won just about every other race on the East Coast, Todd Pletcher has never captured the Preakness Trophy, although rumor has it his coach D. Wayne Lukas lets Pletcher polish the six trophies Lukas has collected since 1980. Pletcher has sent eight colts to the Preakness. Two have completed the superfecta; Impeachment finished third in 2000 and Stradivari was fourth last year.
Always Dreaming’s strongest rival may be Classic Empire. Last year’s Two-Year-Old Champ placed fourth at Churchill after a horrendous trip. This is the fourth straight year that trainer Mark Casse will have a Preakness contender. His last three placed no better than sixth as longshots, but he certainly has a stronger shot here.
Steve Asmussen has a double shot at adding another Preakness winners circle photo to the collection. He saddled Preakness Champs Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.
Doug O’Neil is hoping Term of Art can pull off the shocker. O’Neil won on his first trip to Pimlico with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and was third with Nyquist last year.
Kentucky Derby Runner-Up = Preakness Winner?
Colts who race in the Kentucky Derby are overwhelmingly successful in the Preakness Stakes. Since 1990, ten colts wore the blanket of Roses in Kentucky and a Black-eyed Susan wreath in Maryland. Only one Kentucky Derby winner, Grindstone (1996), didn’t contest the Preakness.
Does it matter how well, or poorly the other seventeen Preakness winners fared in the Kentucky Derby? Colts who finished second through sixth are the most likely to win the Preakness Stakes. Since 1990, six colts who rounded out the Derby Superfecta captured the Preakness. Five who checked in fifth and six rebounded to capture the Black-Eyed Susans, while two colts who placed tenth or worse at Churchill surprised at Pimlico.
That bodes well for this year’s runners up. Lookin at Lee was once again second and gaining ground in the Kentucky Derby; Classic Empire completed the superfecta; Gunnevera was seventh and Hence crossed the Derby finish line in eleventh place. All are looking to derail Always Dreaming.
Triple Crown Spoilers
Six newcomers will vie to beat the champ. Good luck with that. Since 1990, only three horses that didn’t compete in the Kentucky Derby won the Preakness – Red Bullet, Bernardini, and Rachel Alexandra.
If he runs, Lancaster Bomber will attempt to become only the third horse bred outside of the US to capture the Preakness Stakes.
All in the Family
Always Dreaming and Classic Empire share similar breeding traits and their sires and second tail sire (grandpa on dad’s side) competed in the Classics with varying degrees of success.
Always Dreaming succeeded where his sire Bodemeister and grand-sire Empire Maker failed. Bodemeister missed Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories by narrow margins. His son is on the way to bettering the family record.
Classic Empire’s sire Pioneerof the Nile, was second in the Kentucky Derby and finished 11th in the Preakness. The stallion is also the sire of our latest Triple Crown Champ, American Pharoah.
Always Dreaming and Classic Empire are grandsons of Empire Maker. The stallion finished second as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He skipped the Preakness and spoiled Funny Cide’s Triple Crown chances by stealing the Belmont Stakes.
Continuing the trend of keeping it in the family, Lookin at Lee’s sire Lookin at Lucky was sixth in the 2010 Derby and triumphed in the Preakness.
At this point, there are no chinks in Always Dreaming’s armor. Unless he has a horrendous trip, there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the field who can beat him. We won’t know until the gate opens if the Champ will continue his undefeated run or if he has recovered from his efforts in the Kentucky Derby, but chances are very good that the racing world will start another round of Triple Crown hype on Saturday evening.
Learn more about each Preakness contender, plus detailed race analysis and selections in the Preakness Betting Guide.