Always Dreaming arrives Tuesday at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes on May 20. Should anyone else bother entering?
Indeed, the Derby field may send only runner-up Lookin At Lee, fourth-place finisher Classic Maker and 13th-place finisher Girvin to the Triple Crown’s middle jewel in Baltimore. Seventh-place finisher Gunnevera is possible. Otherwise, 15 beaten rivals have seen enough of Always Dreaming.
Not that the starting gate will be largely empty for the crowd of more than 100,000 at Old Hilltop. There are always new shooters hoping the Derby winner is either too tired or not suited for the sharper Pimlico course.
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Royal Mo, whose earnings weren’t enough to enter the 20-horse Derby field, is the quintessential Triple Crown newcomer that sometimes scores an upset. He lost his last two races badly, but the Southern California colt has exquisite bloodlines in Uncle Mo and Indian Charlie and should be second choice. Having three-time Preakness winning jockey Gary Stevens is a plus, too.
After all, bettors have seen three Triple Crown rookies since local Deputed Testamony’s 1983 upset in the rain win the Preakness. Rachel Alexander won in 2009 after taking the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby’s filly counterpart. Bernardini was a late bloomer in 2006 to miss the Louisville race before blossoming in the Preakness. Red Bullet never won another stakes race after his 2000 upset.
But Royal Mo is the biggest threat. Lookin At Lee is 2-of-10 lifetime and simply ran his career best in the Derby to finish a distant second. His late style won’t catch Always Dreaming in a shorter 1 3/16th mile race. Still, he is the son of 2010 Preakness victor Lookin At Lucky. Girvin showed nothing in the Derby to indicate improvement. Classic Maker had a legitimate Derby excuse in getting caught in early traffic. A smaller field would help his chances of coming.
Other new challengers may be Lexington Stakes winner Senior Investment, Illinois Derby champion Multiplier, Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money and Lancaster Bomber. But, they’re all running for second.
Always Dreaming will be the heavy Preakness favorite. Maybe less than even money. The Preakness rewards front-runners and Always Dreaming is remindful of 2002 Derby-Preakness winner War Emblem. While many Preakness winners have allowed a long shot to set a suicidal early pace while running second, not many come from far back thanks to the track’s sharp turns and shorter distance.
Always Dreaming’s Preakness game plan will likely follow his Derby path – stay slightly off the early leader until midway, assert the lead on the final turn and pull away in the final eighth mile. The Preakness is his to lose.
Will racegoers then see a second Triple Crown winner in three years following American Pharoah’s 2015 sweep to end the sport’s 36-year drought? Maybe, but that’s a whole different scenario in New York. For now, Always Dreaming is staring down opponents in Baltimore.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.