Monday 23rd April, 2018
51 ℉ | 64 ℉Baltimore
BALTIMORE -- The connections of Kentucky Derby champion Always Dreaming and chief rival Classic Empire are treating Saturday's 10-horse Preakness Stakes like a match-race shootout.

Always Dreaming, ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez and the early 4-5 favorite, will break from the fourth post with Classic Empire right next door at No. 5.

"It's an ideal spot for Classic Empire," conceded Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher, whom, despite winning seven Eclipse Awards, is looking to saddle his first Preakness champion. "If I were them I'd be happy with that post.

"I would imagine they're going to target us. The target is right next to you. So it probably gives them a little tactical advantage."

There are other quality colts in the $1.5 million, mile and three-sixteenths race, like Lookin At Lee, a 33-1 Derby longshot who found his footing late and finished second, and Gunnevera, winner of the Grade II the Fountain of Youth in March who finished seventh at Churchill Downs two weeks ago.

But the 130,000 expected to attend the Preakness under a forecast of near-perfect weather conditions at Pimlico Race Course could be treated to a stretch duel reminiscent of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989.

At least that's the way handlers of the top two horses appear to see it.

Classic Empire trainer Mark Casse said starting one spot outside of Always Dreaming puts his jockey, Julien Leparoux, in the driver's seat to stalk his adversary.

"If Julien thinks Always Dreaming is running too easy (out of the gate), he'll go up and engage him earlier," Casse said. "If he thinks he's running, he'll sit back... Always Dreaming is obviously a very good horse. We just want a fair shot at him."

Classic Empire, the 3-1 second choice in the morning line, won the Arkansas Derby last month but was jostled while breaking from the 14th post in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby at muddy Churchill Downs and finished fourth.

How much the difficult trip in Louisville hurt the Kentucky-bred son of Pioneerof the Nile remains to be seen.

Always Dreaming, winner of all four of his races this year, captured the Kentucky Derby by two lengths after winning the Florida Derby by five. Should the dark bay colt win on Saturday, the son of 2012 Preakness runner-up

Bodemeister will have a chance to complete the coveted Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 10.

Pletcher said Always Dreaming had a "very strong, enthusiastic" gallop of about one mile early Thursday.

"The horse is doing unbelievably well in the two-week turnaround (from the Derby)," Pletcher 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.

"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. But I do feel very, very good about the way he's coming into it."

Among those also in the field are: Cloud Computing, who finished third in the Grade II Wood Memorial; Conquest Mo Money, beaten by Classic Empire by a half-length at the Arkansas Derby; Multiplier, champion of the Grade III Illinois Derby; and Senior Investment, who won the Grade III Lexington Stakes.

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