As Always Dreaming took his first gallop over the dirt at Pimlico Race Course on Thursday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher peered through a pair of binoculars, searching for any sign of the unruliness the bay colt demonstrated at Churchill Downs.
What Pletcher saw instead was an extremely fit horse going about his business on a nearly empty track. It was exactly the serenity he'd sought when he opted to ship the Kentucky Derby champion to Pimlico 11 days before the May 20 Preakness.
"It was kind of what we were looking for, a tranquil, quiet setting," Pletcher said after the 6 a.m. gallop. "He was focused and on the bridle, but he wasn't as super-aggressive as he was at Churchill. It's one of those things where you want him to be a little aggressive but not quite as much as he was at Churchill. That's why we came in early."
Pletcher continues to be impressed with Always Dreaming's energy as he deals with the rigors of the Triple Crown series. He's so pleased that he plans to maintain the same routine — 6 a.m. gallops with exercise rider Nick Bush aboard — right up until Preakness Day. No harder workouts.
Asked if he's taking the horse out so early because he wants a quiet track, Pletcher grinned and said, "It's part of it, and also, I don't have much else to do. I can't sleep in, so we've got to get going."
The trainer arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon and plans to remain here for the duration of preparations for the Preakness, one of the few major American races he has never won.
But Pletcher has rarely believed in a horse as strongly as he does in Always Dreaming. It was the same assurance he carried into the Derby.
"Our confidence level was probably the highest it has ever been in any single horse we brought to it," he said. "I know [jockey] John Velazquez felt that same way. We talked about it after his breeze over the surface at Churchill."
In the wake of his second Derby victory, Pletcher has enjoyed a whirlwind week of calls, congratulatory texts and interviews. He had forgotten how much attention a Derby victory — he previously won with Super Saver in 2010 — brings. But the famously reserved trainer said he really is enjoying all of it this time.
He also seems genuinely happy to be working with a horse who's fulfilling his promise.
"I think he's continuing to improve actually," Pletcher said. "I think just by his physical makeup, he's a horse that can continue to get better than he already is."