A sloppy track forced trainer Todd Pletcher to cancel his plan to gallop Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming Friday morning at Pimlico Race Course. Instead of doing one circuit jogging over the sloppy track, the animated son of Bodemeister, ridden by Nick Bush, was allowed to make a second lap and covered two miles in the company of a pony.
“He was full of himself, feeling great,” Pletcher said. “I’m really happy where he is energy level-wise. We’ll just sit around and worry about the forecast and go from there.”
The dreary Baltimore weather report calls for more rain Friday afternoon and evening and all day on Saturday with temperatures on the 50s. Conditions are expected to improve dramatically on Sunday with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70s. The long-range forecast for the week leading up to the 142nd Preakness Stakes (G1) calls for dry and warmer weather.
Always Dreaming was still a handful for Bush when they completed their first clockwise trip around the track and Pletcher chose to give his star some more exercise.
“I told Nick before we went out, ‘Let’s see how he’s doing,’” Pletcher said. “He was pretty energetic, so we felt like going two miles would be better. He’s razor-sharp and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Even with more rain in the forecast, Pletcher said he might let Always Dreaming gallop Saturday morning.
“I’ll play it by ear. The main thing is that I don’t want him to get too fresh,” Pletcher said. “If the track is the same tomorrow as it was today, I’d probably opt to gallop. We’re flexible. We’ll inspect the track in the morning and do what we think is best for him.”
Since Pletcher had already decided that he would not give the colt a timed workout in Baltimore, the likelihood of two mornings of sloppy tracks is an inconvenience and doesn’t impact preparations for the race.
“This whole two weeks in between the Derby and the Preakness is all about just refueling and keeping him healthy and happy,” Pletcher said. “Right now he looks like he’s very, very happy.”
Royal MoGallops; Scheduled Breeze Likely Postponed
Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss’ Royal Mo galloped a little over a mile on a sloppy track at Pimlico Friday morning with local exercise rider and aspiring jockey Taylor Leatherman aboard.
The son of Uncle Mo has been scheduled to breeze Saturday, but with rain in the forecast, trainer John Shirreffs is likely to postpone the Robert Lewis (G3) winner’s final serious prep for the May 20 Preakness.
“I was planning on working him on Saturday, but I think I’ll put it off another day or two,” Shirreffs said. “Being an Uncle Mo, he gets over wet surfaces OK. He got over it really well this morning and galloped a little over a mile today and handled it.”
Royal Mo, who topped the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Derby but didn’t draw into the 20-horse field, arrived at Pimlico Tuesday morning after accompanying Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming on a flight from Louisville, Ky.
“We got here early so he could get a chance to get used to his surroundings and the racetrack. He’s handled the track very well. He’s getting happier every day,” Shirreffs said.
“It’s kind of a unique opportunity coming here early,” he added. “There’s not a lot of traffic on the racetrack, so it’s a good time to let a horse adjust to it.”
Gary Stevens is scheduled to ride Royal Mo in the Preakness without any instructions from Shirreffs.
“I’m going to leave that up to Gary. He’s a Hall of Famer,” Shirreffs said. “He’s really excited about riding Royal Mo. He was probably the most disappointed that he didn’t get into the Kentucky Derby. Royal Mo is a horse that likes to match strides, so I’d imagine he’ll let him roll a little bit and get him in a good position and go from there.”
Venezuelan Legend Consults with an American Legend
When he was training in his native country, Antonio Sano was the D. Wayne Lukas of Venezuela. Friday at Churchill Downs, former trainer Larry Kelly, who has been helping with Gunnevera, took Sano and his son, Alessandro, over to meet Lukas, a six-time Preakness winner, most recently in 2013 with Oxbow. The Sanos originally were torn between running in the Preakness or training up to the Belmont Stakes for the late-running Gunnevera. Lukas told them they made the right call for the Derby’s seventh-place finisher.
“The misconception in the Preakness is that it’s a speed track, that it’s always a speed horse. I don’t find that to be true in my experience. If he’s sound and ready to go, I’d take him. When you throw in the mud, the surface, everything, you need to give him a second chance. I would,” Lukas said. “There’s the misconception that the Belmont is (best) for a closer. It’s never won by a closer. I’d take the [race] right in front of me. You wait for the Belmont and he could be like (Lukas’ 1995 Preakness winner) Timber Country and have a temperature that day.”
Lukas also offered this advice: “From what I’ve seen of your horse, I wouldn’t worry about settling him back. But I wouldn’t wait too long to make my move, because he obviously keeps coming. I wouldn’t wait until the quarter pole to try to pick them up. I’d be moving at the three-eighths. I wouldn’t give him too much to do the last quarter-mile.”
The Sanos also were to go to Lexington Friday afternoon to visit Darby Dan Farm and its stallion Dialed In, the sire of Gunnevera. Father and son were both flying back to Florida, arriving back in Baltimore Monday. Gunnevera will have Sunday off at Pimlico and have an easy jog Monday.
Sano was making a brief visit back to Churchill Downs Friday to check on Gunnevera before the Fountain of Youth (G2) winner’s scheduled departure by van to Baltimore at 4 a.m. Saturday.
Gunnevera, with exercise rider Victor O’Farrell aboard, jogged and galloped before picking up the pace to near-work speed for about a quarter-mile down the backstretch.
Alessandro “Alex” Sano, who had overseen Gunnevera’s training while his father returned to his Florida base for a few days, liked what they saw.
“The horse looks nice; the way he displays himself on the track,” Alex Sano said. “It was the right decision to run in the Preakness, just looking at the motion the horse has when he goes to the track and comes off the track. He looked like a happy horse.”
Classic Empire Resumes Galloping Thursday A.M.
John Oxley’s Classic Empire, fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a horrendous start and trip, resumed galloping Friday at Churchill Downs after jogging on Thursday. Last year’s 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner is to van to Baltimore Sunday.
“He felt great,” said exercise rider Martin Rivera. “As soon as I turned him around (after jogging to the front side), he was dragging me, on the muscle this morning. He came back really good after the race. I loved the way he went this morning. He’s come back more aggressive, actually.”
Norman Casse, trainer Mark Casse’s son and assistant, said he’s not particularly surprised how well Classic Empire bounced out of a challenging Kentucky Derby — the latest adventure in a young season that saw the colt’s training and racing schedule disrupted over the winter with a couple of setbacks.
“He’s a really tough horse,” Casse said of the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner, who wound up being the third choice in Kentucky Derby wagering after being the morning-line favorite. “He really loves what he’s doing right now. I’m really happy just the fact that he’s finally in a routine, he’s finally under a regular pattern where he’s running and isn’t missing any training or that kind of thing. I think probably the most important thing coming out of that race is how well he’s doing, that I think he’s going to run a really good race in Baltimore.
“I’ve said all along that he’s probably the most intelligent horse that I’ve ever been around. You can tell he’s always thinking about things,” he added. “The problem is that sometimes during training hours that gets in his way, because he’s smarter than us sometimes. But those problems — knock on wood — seem to be behind him right now. Race-wise, most people bring horses over (to a race) with a lip shank on. We don’t even do that. He’s perfect in the paddock, perfect in post parades. He’s really becoming a really good racehorse.
“I’m very proud of the horse. I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, we should have won the Derby,’ or ‘We could have won the Derby,’ or ‘He ran a better race than Always Dreaming.’ I don’t think like that. My thoughts are he’s doing really well right now. It’s unfortunate we didn’t win the Derby, but there are plenty of big, big races down the road that we’d really love to win, such as the Preakness and the Belmont. That’s what we’ve got to focus on now.”
Still, the Casses clearly relish a rematch with the Kentucky Derby winner.
“We definitely feel like we want another shot at Always Dreaming,” Norman Casse said. “I mean, a legit shot. We want to go over to the Preakness. We want Always Dreaming to run his race and that he has a good trip. We want Classic Empire to run his race and he has a good trip. And we settle it on the racetrack and see who is the best 3-year-old in the country.”
Lookin At Lee, Hence Please Connections with Energy Levels
Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee and his 11th-place stablemate Hence galloped Friday at Churchill Downs, pleasing trainer Steve Asmussen’s chief assistant, Scott Blasi, while training for the Preakness.
Blasi said Hence has demonstrated a lot of energy since exiting his subpar performance last Saturday.
“We just don’t feel like he ever leveled out in the Derby, that he didn’t put that much effort into it,” Blasi said of Calumet Farm's Sunland Derby (G3) winner. “It didn’t seem like he handled the track and all the kickback with the 20 head. He came out of his race with good energy. The thinking is to run him back in the Preakness just for the lack of effort that he put forward in the Derby. He seems very energetic and very fresh. He’s beaten some nice horses. We didn’t think the Derby was a good indication of who he was. Hopefully we catch a fast track and he should give a better account of himself. The talent is there.”
Asked about watching L and N Racing’s Lookin At Lee’s late-running, rail-hugging move to be second, Blasi said: “The Derby is a hard race to watch live. I saw him at the three-eighths pole, and I lost him in the (infield) tents. And when he came out from behind the tents, he was flying. Then when he got through at the quarter pole, I got pretty excited, I’m not going to lie. I thought he had a big shot at catching him. But the winner obviously is a very nice horse. Watching his race in the Florida Derby, he definitely looked like the horse to beat if he put everything together.
“But one thing I’ve learned from (Trainer Bob) Baffert,” he added. “You just want a reason to stand up out of your chair and start screaming at the quarter-pole. And he gave us that. Nice payday for the owners. A $2 million race, he got $400,000 to run second. Gave a good account of himself, a $70,000 yearling that Steve and the guys bought together. So it’s very exciting. We’ve been waiting to run him farther ever since he was a 2-year-old.”
Illinois Derby (G3) winner Multiplier had a routine gallop at Keeneland Friday. He is slated to work Sunday, as is trainer Brendan Walsh's Pimlico Special (G3) contender Conquest Windycity, with the two horses scheduled to van to Baltimore Tuesday.