Todd Pletcher takes sure and steady approach to Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) The Preakness has never been Todd Pletcher’s race.

Sure, it’s the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. But Pletcher has made a habit of skipping Baltimore in order to beat the pack to his home base of New York after the Kentucky Derby and await the Belmont.

The Preakness’ position two weeks after the Derby is too soon for Pletcher. He prefers giving his horses more rest between starts. He’s 0 for 8 in the race, with his best finish being third with Impeachment in 2000.

Of course, it’s become incumbent for the trainer of the Derby winner to bring the champ to Pimlico for a shot at making a Triple Crown bid. So Pletcher is here with Always Dreaming and he’s enjoying himself in his customarily restrained way.

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

He’s wolfing down crab cakes at every opportunity and offering up local restaurant tips to anyone who asks.

“He never was a real charismatic, funny person,” mentor and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, “but he always handled himself well.”

And his horses even better.

Pletcher has won Eclipse Awards seven times as the nation’s leading trainer, including four in a row. He has won nine Breeders’ Cup races and four Triple Crown races, while finishing second or third 13 other times.

“He was going to be good if he never met me,” said Lukas, the career leader with 14 Triple Crown victories, who employed Pletcher as assistant for seven years until he went out on his own in 1995.

Always Dreaming has surprised Pletcher in how quickly the dark bay colt bounced back from his 2}-length victory in the Derby on May 6. He galloped 1+ miles on a warm, muggy Thursday and will jog on Friday because “that’s what we did the day before the Derby,” Pletcher said.

“The tank seems full and he seems eager to go,” he said.

Always Dreaming is the first Derby horse Pletcher has run in the Preakness since Super Saver in 2010. That colt earned Pletcher his first Derby victory before finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Never one to ignore lessons learned, Pletcher is using his experience with Super Saver to guide Always Dreaming’s preparation. He gave Super Saver a breeze – or timed workout – between the first two Triple Crown races. He didn’t with Always Dreaming.

“The two weeks is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know until they get in the stretch and you see what you have in reserve,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep it as simple as possible. We’re not overthinking it. We’re just letting the horse gallop and be happy.”

Pletcher sent Always Dreaming to Pimlico three days after the Derby, wanting to give the colt known for some aggressive behavior in the mornings a chance to get used to his new surroundings well before race day. It was quiet around Pimlico last week, when Always Dreaming practiced standing in the starting gate and visiting the paddock area where he will be saddled indoors on Saturday.

“I like the way he’s behaving around the barn,” Pletcher said. “He’s quiet in the stall. When he gets on the track, he’s strong but in a good way. We don’t want to see him get too excited and step on himself.”

Always Dreaming will have nine rivals in the race, including four that ran in the Derby.

If the colt is showing an eagerness to compete again, so is Pletcher.

“I just want the race to get here,” he said. “He’s doing so good.”

Despite overseeing a stable that runs in races nationwide, Pletcher is single-minded in his approach with each horse in his barn. So don’t even get him started on talk of winning the Triple Crown.

“Let’s hope that Sunday morning we wake up and have to think about that,” he said.

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.