Why Always Dreaming could be vulnerable to Classic Empire in the Preakness

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 8th, 2017

I very much agree with colleague James Scully's broad thesis that Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming has an excellent chance of holding his form through the May 20 Preakness (G1) at Pimlico. Derby winners have often tended to do that anyway, especially in the last two decades when 10 horses pulled off the Derby/Preakness double. And let's face it, Always Dreaming could be as low as even-money against the group of prospective opponents we currently know of, which numbers about nine or so.

Last week, when an off track for the Derby appeared likely, I took a closer look at the eight horses that had won the race over an off track during the past half-century. Now that Always Dreaming has joined that group, it's at least worth taking a look to see how those same eight horses fared in the Preakness, all of whom raced over a Pimlico main track labeled "fast."

1970 Dust Commander 2nd choice Unp
1989 Sunday Silence 2nd choice 1st
1990 Unbridled Favorite 2nd
1994 Go for Gin Favorite 2nd
2004 Smarty Jones Favorite 1st
2009 Mine That Bird 3rd choice 2nd
2010 Super Saver Favorite Unp
2013 Orb Favorite Unp


Of the eight, only Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones emerged victorious, and students of history will remember the former only just narrowly prevailed over Easy Goer in perhaps the most exciting renewal of the Preakness in race history. Longshot Derby winners Dust Commander and Mine That Bird were relatively lukewarm in the wagering, with the latter turning in a really solid effort against Rachel Alexandra despite having shocked the Derby field at 50-1. All the other Derby winners on this list that lost were beaten by horses they had previously defeated in Louisville.

This sample size is incredibly small, and in no way am I suggesting Always Dreaming's win was completely or mostly due to the wet conditions at Churchill. As I wrote in the immediate aftermath Saturday, he was a logical favorite and the fifth consecutive to prevail in the race. I did, however, note that inside paths seemed to be highly favorable. While it might have helped Always Dreaming only to some minor degree, I'm thinking it really helped Lookin at Lee and Battle of Midway, neither of whom was considered among the top three sophomores in the country before the race, to a much greater extent.

Given the low success rate of off-track Derby winners repeating in Baltimore and the possibility an inside path helped pave his way to victory even a little bit, my initial inclination at this very early stage is to take a stand against Always Dreaming at a very short price in the Preakness, provided the track is fast. The most logical alternative, at this point, is Classic Empire, who had to take the overland route into contention after getting sideswiped soon after the start, and then flattened out late to finish fourth. He also suffered inflammation of his right eye, which is reportedly well on its way to healing completely. Unfortunately, there won't be a whole lot of value on him either as the likely second choice.

Lookin at Lee, Hence, and Gunnevera are other Derby starters expected back for the Preakness, but all are deep closers that might not necessarily get the kind of pace necessary to put in a big run. Always Dreaming and Classic Empire will presumably be in more favorable stalking positions. The so-called "new shooters" rarely reach the Preakness winner's circle. Of that group, the relatively less-exposed Cloud Computing and Illinois Derby (G3) winner Multiplier, who earned a 104 BRIS Speed rating for that win, offer some exotics appeal.

We'll have a lot better idea of the Preakness field composition and the race-day weather forecast a week from now, and I'll pick up my sleuthing at that time. For now, I'm tentatively in the Classic Empire camp.