Always Dreaming was impressive in winning the Kentucky Derby, but he hasn't scared anyone off when it comes to facing him in the Preakness. At this stage four Derby rivals are lined up to take another shot at him, and seven or eight other horses are rumored to be considering toeing the line as well - including two that could come over from England. As is always the case, though, there is a big gap between the number of horses that could run in the Derby and the number that would have a real chance of winning the race if they entered. The Preakness is not a place where shocking results typically happen - those are reserved for the Belmont. Just three winners since 1984 have gone off at higher than 10/1, and the highest - Oxbow in 2013 at 15/1 - hardly qualifies as a massive long shot. More often, the race is won by a horse that makes perfect sense - 13 of the last 16 winners paid 3/1 or less.
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Of the horses that are pointed to the Preakness - 12 or 13 have been mentioned, though, the final number is likely to be around 10 - there are some contenders and some pretenders. As things sit at this moment it feels to me like there are five horses that can win the Preakness:
Always Dreaming: We obviously know that the Derby winner is well positioned to win the Preakness - it has happened 10 times in the last 20 years, including three of the last five. And this colt was no fluke in winning the Derby. He was the post time favorite - the fifth straight year the favorite has won - and he capitalized on a near-perfect race to easily dispatch the crowd. He's obviously fit. His mental game, which had been a concern leading into the race, didn't need to be. And he's very well ridden by John Velazquez. He's going to be a very deserving favorite at Pimlico. He's not likely to get off with the easy trip he did at Churchill, though. Classic Empire should be better positioned, and other horses won't let him get away with dictating his own race up front again. He'll have to work hard, but he hasn't given any indications that he isn't up to the challenge.
Classic Empire: The two-year-old champion was run into very hard by McCraken just out of the gate in a chain reaction that was started by Irish War Cry. Classic Empire was visibly shaken and was knocked out of his race plan. He recovered very well to run fourth, and he clearly has a better race in him. It has been a strange spring, with injuries and poor performance grabbing the headlines when everyone hoped he would continue his dominant ways of last year. I still have a lot of faith in the horse and think he has by far the best chance of keeping Always Dreaming honest and perhaps beating him.
Gunnevera: This colt has run in seven graded stakes already in his career. That's more races than a lot of Derby horses had run in that period, so you certainly can't question his experience. And at times he has looked just brilliant in those races. In the last two, though, he hasn't measured up to Always Dreaming. In the Derby he finished seventh, but he also had to recover from contact early and trip trouble later on. He made a decent charge from well back but didn't have enough gas to keep moving. Less distance and a smoother trip should make him more of a factor here - especially if the early pace is crisp.
Hence: His stablemate Lookin at Lee was the surprise second-place finisher in the Derby, but I like the upside of this colt here more. He found himself too far back in the Derby and didn't respond well to the amount of kickback he took on the sloppy track. He was moving at the end, but his race was already over by that point. Again, with a better track, better luck, and a more strategic ride he could be a factor in this one. He may not be good enough, but he is certainly better than he showed in the slop at Churchill.
Malagacy: I'll qualify this one up front by saying I don't actually expect Malagacy to be entered here. He's a stablemate of Always Dreaming, and I suspect they'll wait for the Belmont or elsewhere. That being said, I'd be interested in seeing him here. He had the points to get into the Derby but wisely wasn't entered. He's raw, but this could be a better spot for him. His sire, Shackleford, won this race in 2011. He won his first three career starts this spring but then imploded in the stretch of the Arkansas Derby. It was odd to see, but if he trains well into this race it seems reasonable that he could hold it together better. At his best he would be a factor.
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