The excitement is building in horse racing, as it always does at this time nearly every year.
When the Kentucky Derby winner is healthy and seemingly ready to run once again, many fans can't wait until the Preakness Stakes because the second leg of the Triple Crown will determine whether the Belmont Stakes will be the final test for a Triple Crown candidate or just another race.
Let's check that. The Belmont States will never be "just another race." It is a 1 ½-mile test of champions and always worth noting. But if the Preakness winner is not also the Kentucky Derby winner, interest in the final jewel of the Triple Crown is significantly less.
Always Dreaming seems to be a worthy candidate when it comes to talking about a potential Triple Crown winner. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have a versatile runner on their hands, and that is often what is needed at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
The Preakness is contested on a racetrack with somewhat tighter turns and a shorter homestretch than Churchill Downs, and that makes it tougher on the horses that like to come from behind.
Always Dreaming, the 4-5 favorite for Saturday's race, according to OddsShark, has a number of options. He has won four times in six lifetime starts, and he has shown the ability to run from off the pace or with the lead. That should serve him well in Baltimore.
Classic Empire is the 3-1 second favorite in the race, and the morning-line Kentucky Derby favorite is a powerful horse who is looking for a much better showing than he had at Churchill Downs on May 6.
That horse had been shuffled far behind at the start of the race after a hard collision coming out of the starting gate. It took a while for him to steady himself, but once he started to run, he was quite effective.
He rallied all the way fourth place in the 20-horse field, and trainer Mark Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux have confidence in their horse's ability to contend in the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.
"I have the utmost respect for Always Dreaming," Casse said, per Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not sure we can beat him, but we can run a lot closer than we did in the Derby."
Lookin at Lee, the long-shot second-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, is the third favorite at 10-1 in the Preakness, while Cloud Computing is the fourth choice at 14-1. That horse did not run in the Derby, but he finished third in the Wood Memorial by running on the far outside. He could be a factor if he gets a sharp trip from jockey Javier Castellano.
Post Position, Horse, Odds, Predicted Finish
1. Multiplier, 40-1, ninth place
2. Cloud Computing, 14-1, fourth place
3. Hence, 20-1, eighth place
4. Always Dreaming, 4-5, winner
5. Classic Empire, 3-1, second place
6. Gunnevera, 16-1, sixth place
7. Term of Art, 33-1, 10th place
8. Senior Investment, 33-1, seventh place
9. Lookin At Lee, 10-1, fifth place
10. Conquest Mo Money, 18-1, third place
Washington Post sportswriter Neil Greenberg called Always Dreaming "the horse to beat" and said he is rounding into top form after recording triple-digit Beyer figures in his past two races.
Byron King of the Daily Racing Form called Always Dreaming the horse with the most energy and picked the Derby winner to repeat his success in the Preakness.
Brian Zipse, editor of Horse Racing Nation, likes Classic Empire to win the race in what he describes as "the old Baltimore bounce back."
Zipse believes the race sets up perfectly for Casse's horse: "With little early pace in this one, look for him to use his good natural speed to sit in a garden spot stalking trip just behind the Kentucky Derby winner. That will give him every opportunity to remind the world just how classy he really is when the real running begins."
Steve Haskin of Bloodhorse believes Always Dreaming has not peaked yet and will run another strong race in Baltimore. He expects that horse to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Nicolle Neulist of ChicagoNow likes long-shot Conquest Mo Money to win the Preakness, while her colleague Paul Mazur likes favorite Always Dreaming to win the 1 3⁄16-mile second jewel.