The buzz is building for the 2017 Preakness Stakes after Wednesday's post position draw has set the field for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
All eyes will turn to Always Dreaming after his easy victory at the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. The son of Bodemeister has been on a roll in 2017 with three consecutive victories, including at Churchill Downs, and seems to be getting stronger as the spotlight on him has gotten bigger.
Always Dreaming will be competing against a field of 10 horses looking for their own shot at immortality. Here's how they will line up on Saturday and how the odds stack up at Pimlico:
|2017 Preakness Stakes Post Positions and Odds|
|2. Cloud Computing||20-1|
|4. Always Dreaming||10-11|
|5. Classic Empire||4-1|
|7. Term of Art||25-1|
|8. Senior Investment||25-1|
|9. Lookin At Lee||11-1|
|10. Conquest Mo Money||16-1|
|Post Positions via Preakness.com, Odds via OddsShark.com|
Any skepticism about Always Dreaming's ability after winning the AlwOC and Florida Derby was completely eradicated when he breezed through a muddy track at Churchill Downs to defeat Lookin At Lee by 2 3/4 lengths.
The Preakness Stakes will offer a different challenge for Always Dreaming and jockey John Velazquez. The biggest difference is the weather conditions in Baltimore, which is expected to be pristine with the exception of possible thunderstorms late on Friday, per Weather.com.
There's also going to be more room for the field to navigate since only 10 horses are running this weekend, as opposed to 20 at the Kentucky Derby.
Even though Always Dreaming has been riding the wave of momentum since the calendar flipped to 2017, there's an argument to be made Classic Empire's run at the Kentucky Derby was more impressive.
Starting the race at the 14th post, Classic Empire had to navigate his way close to the rail in an effort to shorten the track at Churchill Downs and challenge Always Dreaming for a victory.
Instead, things fell apart right out of the gate for Classic Empire and jockey Julien Leparoux. He got off to a bad start, as detailed by Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde:
"In a start that was riddled with chaos, Classic Empire had the worst of it. He was body slammed on his right side by McCraken, who himself was swerving inside to avoid other veering horses.
McCraken wasn’t finished bothering Classic Empire – a mile later he would drift into him at the top of the stretch as well. But the major damage was done early.
The collision a couple strides out of the gate destroyed any chance jockey Julien Leparoux had of placing Classic Empire near the forefront of the 20-horse field, leaving him in 13th place half a mile into the race, 12 lengths behind the leaders. It also left the colt with a lot of Churchill Downs mud kicked into his face, which might have been a factor in why Classic Empire couldn’t open his right eye the morning after the Derby."
Despite having a bad eye and bad start, Classic Empire kicked on the engine after the first half-mile to finish fourth. Amid all that chaos, being able to nearly place in the top three was a triumph for the horse and a testament to how talented he is.
Always Dreaming and Classic Empire are among the horses also making quick turnarounds after running at the Kentucky Derby.
Classic Empire did make the trek through Churchill Downs just three weeks after the Arkansas Derby. Always Dreaming has never had less than four weeks of rest between races, so this is uncharted territory for him as his team looks for another victory.
Another horse running the Preakness after the Kentucky Derby is Gunnevera, who looked like a potential Triple Crown threat leading into the Florida Derby. He went into that race after winning the Fountain of Youth and was a 9-5 favorite in Florida, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
Instead of Gunnevera solidifying his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite, Always Dreaming got the rub and has been riding high ever since.
The Kentucky Derby didn't do anything to enhance Gunnevera's resume with a disappointing seventh-place finish.
Former trainer Larry Kelly believes Gunnevera's pure speed style, which was something that he couldn't put on display in Kentucky because of the track conditions, will work well at the Preakness.
"He's got a phenomenal kick, and we just haven't had a chance to really prove it or show it," Kelly told Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun. "If he fires, he'll join them up there [near the lead] and then, let the chips fall where they may."
If this turns into a speed race, Gunnevera has the ability to fulfill his promise that everyone expected from him at the Florida Derby.
Always Dreaming's recent run of success will come to an end. The stage is perfectly set up for Classic Empire to get a big rebound win on Saturday.
Having to compete against a smaller field and starting in a much better position than he did at the Kentucky Derby leaves Classic Empire in a position to get out of the gate quickly, set the tempo and turn things on down the stretch for a victory.
Winner: Classic Empire