Todd Pletcher doesn't believe in running his horses back in two weeks. This is why he has started 48 horses in the Derby but Always Dreaming will be only his ninth in the Preakness. The last time he brought a Derby winner to Maryland, Super Saver, it was a disaster. But the seven-time Eclipse winner says he has learned from that. More importantly, he has the best horse in Always Dreaming, who hasn't been seriously challenged as a 3-year-old. He'll get a stern test from Classic Empire Saturday but chances are he will head to Belmont with a chance to become a Triple Crown winner.


Todd Pletcher is training against everything he believes and practices in the Preakness. Pletcher has his own way of doing things and has won seven Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer by sticking to his plan.

One thing he avoids doing is running a horse back within two weeks. Four weeks or longer is his norm. This explains his infrequent participation in the Preakness. He has started 48 horses in the Kentucky Derby. He has started only eight in the Preakness. ”Yeah, I think that’s part of it,” he said.

Make no mistake. He would love to capture one of the few prizes that has eluded him. “I have tremendous respect for the Preakness. It’s something I’d love to win. It’s just in a lot of cases we felt like our horses needed a little more time to recover (from the Derby).”

But the best in any business are adaptable. Pletcher is confident both he and Always Dreaming are up to the quick turnaround. Pletcher feels he has learned something from the last time he brought a Derby winner, Super Saver, to Baltimore. He breezed Super Saver between the two races and feels it might have been costly as Super Saver ran eighth.

“I think if I had a do-over with Super Saver I probably wouldn’t have breezed him at all. We tried to go an easy three-eighths with him, which in retrospect probably didn’t put any energy into him. I don’t necessarily think it took any out and I’m not sure it really would have mattered.”

Always Dreaming will go into the Preakness off only gallops, although they have been eye-catching. After his Thursday work, David Grening in the Racing Form said the Derby winner is “on the engine.”

“He’s putting plenty of energy into his gallops,” Pletcher said. “I’m just trying to focus on refueling the tank a little bit.”

The tank apparently doesn’t need much refueling. “We like what we are seeing so far. All indications are he bounced out of the Derby quickly. But sometimes you don’t know until you’re in the heat of battle if they’ve got that extra reserve.”

Mark Casse, trainer of Classic Empire, who will start next to Always Dreaming in No. 5, said the Derby winner had better be at his best. Casse has been ticking off Derby factoids that worked against his colt for two weeks. The one he repeats most often is his 2-year-old champion ran 75 feet further than Always Dreaming in Louisville, roughly the distance he finished in arrears. What’s more, his horse was blasted at the start by McCraken, possibly getting the wind knocked out of him and sometime during the race he was hit in the eye by a stone or a clod of dirt, which might have further discouraged him.

“One can only speculate what the outcome would have been had he been given a clear trip," Casse said. "I’m running him because we think he’s the best horse and we want to prove it. The great thing about our sport is everybody can think and believe but we get to prove it on the track. Maybe Always Dreaming will still beat him but we’re ready to take the shot.”

Off recent history, Casse has a 50-50 chance of being right. The last four Derby winners have all gone off at odds-on but only American Pharoah and California Chrome have justified their odds. Nyquist was third last year and Orb was off the board in 2013.

A neutral observer, Gary Stevens, who was to have ridden Royal Mo, is in the favorite’s corner. “I loved (Always Dreaming) going into the Derby as a spectator. My feeling was that if he repeated his Florida Derby, which was the most impressive prep all spring, he would be tough to beat. And he repeated that. He’s going to have a target on his back but that target is going to be tough to catch. It’s his race to lose.”

I concur. Classic Empire has the talent to turn the tables and starting outside Always Dreaming might be able to keep Always Dreaming pinned on the inside. Casse said after the draw his colt might hook the Derby winner right out of the gate. That's the show fans want to see.

There is little glory in selecting an odds-on favorite but there is no joy in ripping up tickets. I see Always Dreaming heading to Belmont with an opportunity to become the second Triple Crown winner in three years.

Pegasus 2 a go

The Preakness might not be racing’s only big newsmaker in Maryland this week. The Stronach Group might take advantage of having the attention of the racing media to confirm that Pegasus 2 is a definite go. If not this week, the announcement will come soon.

There has been doubt in some quarters that TSG would be able to assemble 12 entities to ante up $1 million apiece for a slot in the starting gate this coming winter. Not only have a dozen indicated they want to be part of what now is the world’s richest race, they are the same 12 who subscribed last year, according to HRI's source.

Moreover, there is a waiting list, including some major global players, who would like to get in but are currently on the waiting list.

The sweetener that kept the band together is the promise of more than $650,000 to each of the subscribers, which would limit their potential deficit. Last year, the minimum a stakes holder could recoup was $250K, the reward for finishing fourth through 12th.

Also, the share-holders have been guaranteed a piece of the betting action, which last year soared to more than $40 million for the day. This wasn’t part of the package in 2017 because of the uncertainty over how the race would be greeted and the expenses with getting it off the ground.

Frank Stronach's bold idea turned out to be a phenomenal success even with the least expensive general admission $100, bar stools going for an additional $200 and tables in the restaurants priced at $575 per person.

Subscribers also have been promised a piece of any TV rights fees and sponsorships. However, this is unlikely to ever produce anything since only the Triple Crown races command a rights fee and sponsorships are traditionally used to cover the expense of buying television time, as TSG had to do last winter.

The total purse for Pegasus 2.0 has been elevated from $12 million to $16 million--the addition coming from TSG--to allow for inflated participation awards, which I feel run contrary to the spirit of what racing is supposed to be.

The precise payouts at the top have not been announced but with $10,150,000 left in the pool after the consolation prizes, they are likely to resemble last year’s payoffs, including $7 million to the winner.

It’s possible, if not likely, that by the time the race is run, the Pegasus will no longer be the world’s richest race. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the force behind the $10 million Dubai World Cup, said at this year’s renewal, “I want to be one step ahead…We want to be No. 1. I’m meeting with my people to be No. 1.”

No one doubts the oil rich sheikh can make this happen. It could be that he is merely waiting for the official word on the 2018 Pegasus to announce by how much he plans to top it. The ball will then move back into Stronach's court.

Miami, May 18, 2017