The 2017 Preakness Stakes takes center stage in the sports world this week, starting with Wednesday's post position draw.
Always Dreaming is the horse everyone will be keeping an eye on leading up to and during the Preakness. He is horse racing's breakout star already this year with wins at the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, putting himself in position to become the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown.
This will be the greatest test for Always Dreaming, jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher, with just two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
|2017 Preakness Stakes Draw Information|
|Date||Start Time (ET)||Live Stream|
|Wednesday, May 17||5 p.m.||NBCSports.com|
Betting odds have given Always Dreaming a decided advantage over the rest of the Preakness field.
OddsShark has the Kentucky Derby champion as a 10-11 favorite to win the second leg of the Triple Crown, followed by Classic Empire at 4-1 and Lookin At Lee at 11-1.
As good as Velazquez is on the horse, Pletcher deserves a lot of the credit for Always Dreaming's triumph because of what he did in the week leading up to the Derby, as noted by Dan Wolken of USA Today:
"When [Pletcher] sent Always Dreaming to the track last Sunday, the horse was so eager to train he became difficult for his exercise rider Adele Bellinger to control, something the horse had never done before. [...]
"The concern in a situation like that is the horse will exert too much energy and leave his race on the track in the morning. Pletcher, whose powerful barn wins big races all over the country but has had a much-maligned Derby record of one win and two seconds from 45 starters, knew an adjustment needed to be made.
"So for the rest of the week, Pletcher brought Always Dreaming out to gallop before dawn, using a new exercise rider in Nick Bush and 'draw reins,' which allow for better control. Still, Always Dreaming was a handful coming up to the Kentucky Derby, which meant this would go one of two ways."
After understanding what it would take to get Always Dreaming on track, Velazquez was able to go to work by riding the rail and unleashing the horse's speed down the stretch to pull away from Lookin At Lee for the win.
It was an impressive victory anyway, but it looked even better because the track at Churchill Downs was a muddy mess due to heavy rainfall in the area over the previous two days. On a slow track, Always Dreaming's ability to cruise to victory makes him an easy choice as the favorite for the Preakness.
Classic Empire figured to be a serious threat at the Kentucky Derby, but he was undone by a horrendous start that kept him near the back of the pack.
Despite that poor start, though, Classic Empire did show plenty of resolve to think big things will come his way. He got caught in a jam at the start of the Kentucky Derby, sitting in 13th place after one-half mile, but he climbed up nine spots after that to finish in fourth place.
Classic Empire drew the 14th position at Churchill Downs, putting him on the outside to start and requiring a perfect explosion out of the gate to have any shot at setting the pace.
Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker gave praise for the way Classic Empire ran in the race:
Mike Watchmaker @DRFWatchmaker
All things considered, Classic Empire ran very well. And I’m deadly serious. He ran well.2017-5-6 23:31:45
If there's going to be a serious challenger to Always Dreaming this week, Classic Empire has all the skills to do it. The key will be where he starts the Preakness, just as it was at the Kentucky Derby.
Always Dreaming has earned the right to be the Preakness Stakes favorite. Classic Empire is the biggest threat to his hopes for a Triple Crown. It's the perfect one-on-one storyline to enhance the drama of horse racing's biggest spectacle.