It doesn't take long for the horse racing world to change gears. With Always Dreaming taking the victory at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the focus has already shifted to whether the horse can keep the hopes of a Triple Crown alive at Pimlico for the 2017 Preakness.
The second leg of the Crown has been a relatively common jewel for the Kentucky Derby champion to gather. While only one horse has won all three of the major races since 1978, plenty have been able to capture the first two legs.
California Chrome (2014), I'll Have Another (2012) and Big Brown (2008) are all recent examples of horses that were able to capture the Preakness title after winning the Derby.
What odds does Always Dreaming have of joining their ranks?
Well, ahead of race time on May 20, there are still plenty of variables at play.
We can expect there to be a much smaller field to deal with. The Preakness often has the smallest field of the trio of races because the two-week turnaround can be brutal, and many teams decide to give their horses rest for the longest of the races in the Belmont.
Only three horses ran in both the 2016 Derby and the Preakness.
Still, this was considered to be a close field in the buildup to the Derby, so there are sure to be some owners and trainers who believe their horses have what it takes to beat Always Dreaming.
The field is far from set, and we don't yet know what contenders might emerge, what the track conditions are expected to be or what new challengers might enter the fold, but here's what the odds might look like heading into the race at Pimlico.
|Projected Preakness 2017 Odds and Field|
|Lookin at Lee||5-1|
|Conquest Mo Money||40-1|
|Odds are author's projection based on previous Preakness races and 2017 results|
The Favorite: Always Dreaming
Obviously, the early list of contenders at the Preakness begins with Always Dreaming. In a mediocre field, the Todd Pletcher-trained horse stood out as the Derby winner and could run away with this one with even more ease.
Always Dreaming showed the ability to get off to a strong start, trailing behind early race leader State of Honor from the outset. That skill will be extremely important with the shorter track in Maryland.
Where 2016's Derby winner, Nyquist, failed to keep up with the fast pace of the race early on, Always Dreaming should thrive.
The fact of the matter is the Derby was a clean race for the most part. It wasn't a case of several horses getting boxed in. Few jockeys can claim they were handed a bad trip. Always Dreaming simply outran the field.
There will be several new contenders in this race, but it's hard to deny the Kentucky Derby winner should be the favorite.
With a win at the Florida Derby earlier this year, the colt has a win on a shorter track already. With fewer horses to get stuck in traffic with in this race, there's no reason he can't remain in contention from start to finish once again.
The Chief Contender: Lookin At Lee
Although the favorite did well to separate himself from the pack, his greatest challenge came from a relative longshot. Lookin at Lee came into the day at 22-1 odds, per OddsShark, but turned in an excellent performance that netted him a second place finish.
If Lookin At Lee's connections want to give themselves hope they can outrun Always Dreaming, they have to look no further than 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator for inspiration.
The slight underdog went toe-to-toe with Nyquist at Churchill Downs, only to come second and best the horse in Baltimore and ruin the Triple Crown attempt before it got started.
Lookin At Lee's performance in the Derby shows he can compete with the best horses in this field. Trainer Steve Asmussen praised the horse for his performance in Louisville.
"He's the first horse in 20 years to run in the top three in the Derby from the 1 hole," he said, per Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form. "All the variables you worry about in a horse going in here, I don't worry about with Lee. He's shown up every time. He earns your respect by overcoming, not making excuses."
Gate 1 isn't a great post position with a massive field like the Derby. With less pressure to get out ahead of the traffic at the Preakness, it'll be interesting to see whether Lookin At Lee can give the Derby winner an even better challenge this time around.
The Redemption Pick: Classic Empire
Looking at the replay of the Kentucky Derby, there aren't too many horses that can be excused for having a bad trip. The race was run about as clean as a race can be with a field of 20.
However, Classic Empire might be the lone exception.
As Jay Privman of DRF noted, the favorite had a rough start to the race that he recovered from:
Jay Privman @DRFPrivman
Irish War Cry veered into McCraken, who crashed into Classic Empire leaving gate. Classic Empire did best of that trio, finishing 4th2017-5-7 01:33:06
Privman wasn't alone in this analysis, either. Andy Serling of the New York Racing Association also chimed in on the horse's unfortunate run:
Andy Serling @andyserling
I am not in any way suggesting Classic Empire should have won, but he had the toughest trip of any effective finisher. Probably second best.2017-5-7 02:11:25
Avoiding dust-ups like the one that knocked jockey Julien Leparoux off course early on Saturday is part of the Kentucky Derby, but the smaller field at the Preakness should give us a better gauge of the horse's capability.
That could be bad news for Always Dreaming and his connections, as a Classic Empire with a clear path and good trip might just have what it takes to be successful in Baltimore. If there's a horse that ran in Kentucky that could dethrone the Derby winner, it's Classic Empire.