Trainer Todd Pletcher wanted to give the Preakness favorite a relaxed day after he galloped with his customary aggression on Thursday morning. It was the same routine Always Dreaming followed before his career-defining win at Churchill Downs on May 6.
The Derby champ’s 10 days in Baltimore have been relatively devoid of intrigue, exactly what Pletcher wanted when he shipped Always Dreaming from Kentucky.
“We got what we were looking for in terms of quiet environment,” he said. “So yeah, I feel good about it. We might have arrived in the same condition if we had stayed at Churchill. But I just felt at the time it was the correct move, and nothing I’ve seen here has indicated that it wasn’t.”
He expects a tight, fast track at Saturday’s 6:48 p.m. post time, similar to the one on which Always Dreaming swept to victory in the April 1 Florida Derby.
Pletcher’s former boss, six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas, joined him to watch Always Dreaming jog.
“I was just kind of pumping him up,” the 81-year-old Lukas said. “He’s done a really beautiful job with this horse. This horse is not easy to train. I’ve always said that this race, the Derby, the Belmont are always won by guys with experience. His experience is paying off. This horse looks good.”
Lukas said Always Dreaming looks even better than he did in the days before the Derby. He agrees with the common wisdom that Classic Empire is the only horse talented enough to pull an upset but sees a potential flaw in the top challenger.
“They are the two best horses, but my experience is when a horse has a really rough race in the Derby, which Classic Empire did, where he really didn’t get a good trip and things kind of went awry all the way around there, it seems like it’s tough for them to overcome in the next one,” Lukas said. “He’s quality. He’s a really good horse. He’s in top form as far as I can see. But it may affect him a little bit here.”
And in breaking news ...
Pletcher’s daily streak of eating crab cakes died at seven on Thursday night. “I made a bad decision at dinner,” he deadpanned. “I’m not proud.”