New horses among Preakness challenges facing Always Dreaming

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After Always Dreaming’s win in the Kentucky Derby as the favorite, the colt will be running in the Preakness with a bulls-eye on his back.

With a victory, Always Dreaming would head to the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks later with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. Two years ago, American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought by winning the Triple Crown. Before that, California Chrome in 2014 and I’ll Have Another in 2012 followed up their Kentucky Derby victories by winning the Preakness to set up Triple tries. Neither pulled off the feat.

The 142nd Preakness is shaping up to have 11 runners. Entries are due Wednesday, when post positions will be drawn.

Always Dreaming figures to be the clear favorite. After starting the year without a victory, he’s won four in a row by a combined 23\ lengths.

Always Dreaming arrived in Baltimore three days after winning the Derby by 2} lengths on a sloppy track. Trainer Todd Pletcher wanted to give the dark bay colt plenty of time to adjust to his new surroundings since Always Dreaming proved difficult to train in the days leading up to the Derby. His behavior forced Pletcher to adjust his equipment and use a different exercise rider in the mornings.

The colt has been, well, like a dream since he left Kentucky.

“We like what we’re seeing so far,” Pletcher said. “All the indications are he’s bounced out of the race quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he cooled down after the race and recovered so well even the evening of the Derby. All the indications since then have been great.”

Pletcher traditionally skips the Preakness because he’s not a fan of running horses back two weeks after a stressful race like the Derby. Instead, the New York-based trainer often gives his Derby runners five weeks’ rest and points them toward the 1+-mile Belmont Stakes, the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown.

“It’s really a tremendous respect for the Preakness,” Pletcher said. “It’s something I’d love to win. It’s just in a lot of cases we felt like that our horses need a little more time to recover, and not all of them have bounced out of the Derby as well as it seems like Dreaming has so far.”

The 49-year-old trainer is 0 for 8 in the race. His best finish was third with Impeachment in 2000. Always Dreaming will be just his second Preakness starter in seven years.

Pletcher has decided Always Dreaming won’t have a timed workout – known as a breeze – before the Preakness.

“He’s putting plenty of energy into his gallops and I just don’t see the need for a breeze,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus the two weeks on kind of refueling the tank a little bit, and hopefully he can show us at the Preakness all that he has and be ready to go.”

Always Dreaming faces different challenges in the Preakness. Unlike the traffic-choked 20-horse field in the 1\-mile Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown is limited to 14 horses running a shorter distance of 1 3/16 miles.

Always Dreaming faces new shooters, too. Several horses that skipped the Derby have the advantage of being rested, including Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, Senior Investment and Term of Art. Lancaster Bomber, from the barn of Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, finished fourth in the English 2000 Guineas on May 6, the same day as the Derby.

Some of Always Dreaming’s Derby competition is back to take a shot at knocking him off, including fourth-place finisher Classic Empire.

“I’m running him because we feel he’s the best horse and we want to prove it,” trainer Mark Casse said. “We sure didn’t change our mind given the results of the Derby.”

Also returning from the Derby are second-place Lookin At Lee, seventh-place Gunnevera and 11th-place Hence.

“I’ve tasted what it’s like to think we are going to win the Kentucky Derby,” said Corey Lanerie, who rides Lookin At Lee. “Now hopefully we can get the job done in the Preakness.”

The Preakness lost a potential starter on Sunday when Royal Mo suffered a career-ending injury during a five-furlong workout at Pimlico.

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens was aboard Royal Mo when he said he heard a pop while turning into the stretch.

Trainer John Shirreffs said X-rays showed a fractured sesamoid bone in the colt’s right front ankle. Royal Mo was taken to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

The Southern California-based colt was on the eligible list for the Derby but didn’t draw into the field.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.