by Brian Nadeau
May 17, 2017
Any thoughts of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming enjoying an unpressured trip around Old Hilltop in Saturday’s 142nd edition of the Preakness were erased shortly after 5pm Wednesday evening when Derby 4th-place finisher Classic Empire drew post position 5, one stall to the direct outside of the only horse still with a chance at the Triple Crown. Simply put, Always Dreaming will have his work cut out for him when the gates spring open in the Preakness.
Whether it was gamesmanship, strategy, or a designed poker play, the openness of Classic Empire’s connections in saying there will be no free pass in the Preakness is, and they’ll be up on the pace, is, on the face of it, pretty damn cool. It’s basically like an NFL team, who needs a yard on 4th and 1, telling the defense “We’re running it right up the middle, come stop us if you can.” It’s a true show of bravado and confidence, though, as we found out in the Derby, when Classic Empire got slammed at the start, it only takes a few strides for the best laid plans to go to waste.
The cool thing here is that said connections said all this before the draw. And now, with Classic Empire directly to the outside of Always Dreaming, it’s going to put the latter in one heck of a precarious position, as he’s likely going to have to run hard every step of the way. Of course, he showed in the Derby that he can do that, through fast early fractions too, and keep on going. But what he has not yet shown is if he can do it on a true racetrack that doesn’t hold a bias (inside on Derby Day), or against a horse who is a hapless longshot, like he did when he tripped out beautifully in the Florida Derby over State of Honor, the same horse who he was tracking in the Derby. And make no mistake folks, State of Honor Classic Empire is not.
All of this could have an immediate impact on the rest of the field too, since, if the two best horses in the race go on a tear early, and a match race of sorts breaks out, strong closers like Lookin At Lee and Gunnevera suddenly enter the equation. I’m not so sure a scenario will develop where that happens, but what I am pretty sure of is that Always Dreaming is, for the first time this year, going to be put in a position where he very likely won’t be getting the best of it. And while it’s unfair to compare one Todd Pletcher horse to another, let’s not forget that Super Saver, his other Derby winner, on a very wet track too, was nowhere to be found in the Preakness.
And all this is before we mention why we’re all here in the first place; to gamble. And taking 3-5 or so on a horse who is going to be facing an uphill battle and a set of circumstances he’s yet to encounter in any way shape or form, isn’t the way to make money at the race track.
*** Lastly, before I go, I’d like to mention that the Horse Player NOW team will once again be at Pimlico Saturday and working with our good friends and ardent supporters at Xpressbet, in the Wagering 101 tent on the infield. It’s a yearly tradition that I’m extremely proud to be a part of, and something I’d like to think goes a long way in helping generate a lot of new fans on one of the rare days in racing when new fans are there to be generated. If you’re on the grounds, please stop by and say hi, check out what we have to offer, and share any opinions you might have as well. And, most importantly, good luck and enjoy a great two days of racing this weekend at Pimlico.