BALTIMORE — Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse each said they would be fine with Always Dreaming and Classic Empire going to the lead in the Preakness Stakes. But that was before their speed duel actually materialized Saturday – and cost them the race.
One would think that the two trainers would be having second and third and fourth thoughts about it after a rested “new shooter” that skipped the Kentucky Derby swooped in to pass both of their heavily backed horses and score an upset victory.
A 13-1 long shot, Cloud Computing came through in the stretch to overtake Classic Empire and win the 142nd Preakness by a head with 31-1 long shot Senior Investment finishing third on a fast track at Pimlico.
Set off as the 6-5 favorite, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming locked up with Classic Empire in a suicidal speed duel before fading badly after six furlongs. He finished eighth out of 10, ending any chance of a Triple Crown sweep this year.
Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher would not bite on the suggestion that the pace was too fast for his horse, pointing out that “Classic Empire held on for second. He probably went pretty ambitiously at us and maybe cost himself the race. But we didn’t have an excuse.”
Jockey John Velázquez also pointed to Classic Empire’s near miss as a reason the pace was not too hot, but he admitted that Always Dreaming was running on empty.
“I knew I was in trouble on the backstretch when (Classic Empire) got to him almost head-to-head and engaged him,” Velázquez said. “I knew I didn’t have it. That’s horse racing.”
Conversely, Classic Empire trainer Mark Casse said that jockey Julien Leparoux’s push to make it an early, mano-a-mano duel cost the 2-1 second choice a chance to finish first. But he said he was all-in on that strategy.
“I said to Julien that second doesn’t mean anything, let’s go try to win this thing,” Casse said. “It ended up getting us in the end.”
Leparoux blamed Always Dreaming’s early fade in the final turn for leaving Classic Empire hanging by himself.
“I got to the lead early, maybe too early,” he said. “The winner just came at us at the end. He ran a big, big race.”
Cloud Computing is a big, big colt that was late to racing because he was hurt last year. In fact, he is the first Preakness winner to have gone unraced as a 2-year-old since Bernardini did it 11 years ago on the day that Derby winner Barbaro broke down. Bernardini’s rider that day was the current, four-time Jockey of the Year Javier Castellano, who also rode the winner Saturday.
“We always liked this horse as a 2-year-old,” said Chad Brown, 38, the reigning Trainer of the Year who got his first win in a Triple Crown race. “How did we know that he was ‘Preakness good’? I would say in his second start in the Gotham (finishing second in March). He was chasing a fast pace, and then he made another run in the lane. He just never quit.”
But a third-place finish in last month’s Wood Memorial showed Brown that Cloud Computing was not ready for the Kentucky Derby, so he decided to wait six weeks and bring him back for the run at Pimlico.
“It really wasn’t a hard decision,” Brown said, “and we just really zeroed in on this race. Thankfully it worked out.”
Whether he shows up in three weeks at the Belmont Stakes is another matter.
“We really don’t know,” Brown said. “Do I think he’s a mile-and-a-half horse? He’s never really struck me that way. But I’m not going to rule it out. Let’s see how he comes out of this and who’s running and get a feel for it . I’ll leave it as a possibility right now.”
- Maybe he just does not like grass. Before he finished third, Senior Investment acted up in front of the crowd as he was being saddled on the turf track. He even reared a couple times and did not completely settle down until jockey Channing Hill took him off the turf and onto the dirt track for the post parade.
- Pletcher has brought two Kentucky Derby winners to the Preakness, and they both finished eighth as favorites in the race. The other time was seven years ago with Super Saver, also a Derby winner on a wet track.
- After heavy rain Friday turned the main track at Pimlico to slop, it gradually dried Saturday from muddy to good and finally to fast an hour before the Preakness. But that was not good for Lookin At Lee. After finishing second in the Derby as a 33-1 long shot, he finished fourth as a 9-1 chance on Saturday. “I thought the track suited him better for the Derby being a little more sealed,” jockey Corey Lanerie said. “Even from the gate, to me he just didn’t travel as well over the track.”
- The Kentucky Derby and Preakness seem to be competing for most dubious attendance figures. The Maryland Jockey Club announced Saturday’s crowd to be a record 140,327. But it sure did not appear that big. Not looking at an infield of latecomers that were not as packed to the gills as in recent years. Walking under the grandstand was also much easier than it used to be. It should be noted that there is no disincentive to jack up the actual crowd counts, which one former racing official told me years ago are often just estimates based on the betting handle and program sales.
- More quantifiably reliable is the announcement of the total handle, which reached a Preakness record $97 million Saturday, beating last year’s total by about $3 million.