Confidence Abounds Among Old Rivals, New Challengers In Preakness

by | 05.11.2017 | 4:09pm
Royal Mo breezes at Santa Anita on Feb. 24

Despite the tight two-week turnaorund, the trainers of two returning Kentucky Derby runners like their chances in the Preakness. Before they can get in the Pimlico winner's circle though, they'll have to face down some fresh challengers whose connections are equally confident about their chances.

Trainer Mark Casse is hopeful the Preakness will provide his Eclipse Award champion with the chance to avenge a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Speaking on an NTRA media teleconference Thursday, Casse said the colt's performance in Louisville only underscored his class.

“He had so many things go wrong, any of which could cost you the race,” said Casse. “He amazes me because whatever you throw at him, he keeps coming back. He's had a lot of things thrown at him this year, and he keeps coming back and that shows how great he is.”

Casse said Classic Empire was “wiped out” at the start of the race as he emerged from the gate, was struck at some point either with a whip or clod of dirt, injuring his eye, and ultimately took a longer trip to get to the finish line than a couple of his rivals. The trainer cited Trakus data released this week showing Classic Empire traveled 75 feet farther than Always Dreaming during the race and 89 feet farther than runner-up Lookin At Lee.

Classic Empire's eye injury now appears completely healed and Casse said his son and assistant trainer Norm Casse reports the horse is full of energy and training well. The colt does not appear in any way rattled or discouraged following the eventful Derby trip.

As reported earlier today, trainer Todd Pletcher remains satisfied with Always Dreaming following his Derby win and does not plan to give the horse a breeze before the Preakness. In hindsight, he said previous Derby winner Super Saver did not benefit from the three furlong breeze he got during the time between races.

Pletcher anticipates Always Dreaming's physical efficiency, combined with powerful speed will work in his favor in the Preakness. The stamina he sees in the colt put him in mind of past trainees Quality Road and Left Bank.

“They have that ability to get into that high cruising speed and maintain it over 1 1/8 miles to 1 ¼ miles,” he said. “It takes an elite horse to do those types of things and I think that's what he's proven to us, is that he's capable of doing that.”

Both colts will face fresh(er) horses in Royal Mo and Senior Investment next Saturday at Pimlico. Trainer Ken McPeek believes the added distance will benefit Grade 3 Lexington winner Senior Investment, who could also point toward the Belmont Stakes. It's too early for McPeek to say where Senior Investment will be placed, but he expects the son of Discreetly Mine could have more pace to run into in the Preakness. Previous rider Channing Hill will have the call.

Gary Stevens will have the ride on Royal Mo, who he says is better than his third-place finish in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. The pair broke from the outside gate in the race, which Stevens said put them on a crest of the track, next to where the surface drops off for drainage, and alongside some sun umbrellas.

“I'm thinking, 'There's no way he's going to be paying attention to break away from here. None of that phased him,” said Stevens. “He left there with run on his mind. I had to use him a lot more than I would have liked to to get over and save ground, so that absorbed a lot of his finishing energy in my mind, and he was still around at the end.”

Stevens was jostled hard in the last 50 yards of the race by Battle of Midway, and lost his whip when fellow rider Victor Espinoza knocked it out of his hand. In the end, the horse struck Stevens as having the tenacity of a street fighter when Royal Mo saw eventual winner Gormley come up next to him, and the attitude put him in mind of one of his best mounts.

“He reminded me a lot of Silver Charm,” said Stevens. “He loved it. He loved being in the battle. I told John [Shirreffs, trainer], it reminded me of Silver Charm's Santa Anita Derby when he came second to Free House, and we came back and won the [Kentucky Derby]. I'm pretty excited to be headed to Baltimore.”

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