Always Dreaming looks very much for real as Preakness awaits

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BALTIMORE — Always Dreaming has run away from the competition in four consecutive victories this year, winning by a combined 23¼ lengths.

The dark bay colt was never challenged in winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 ¾ lengths on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.

Whether he does it again in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico on Saturday depends on a good trip, the tactics by his nine rivals and a little luck. Always Dreaming is the early 4-5 favorite under jockey John Velazquez.

“Always Dreaming hasn’t had many obstacles to face,” said Corey Lanerie, who will ride Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee. “Maybe he’s that good that he won’t encounter trouble. But you never know.”

Stream the Preakness on NBC: Watch as Always Dreaming chases history

After three consecutive days of 90-plus-degree heat, the forecast calls for a high of 68 and cloudy skies Saturday when the race goes off about 6:48 p.m. EDT.

Always Dreaming is a victory away from setting up a bid for the Triple Crown. Two years ago, American Pharoah became the first horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years.

“I’m someone who has been in a lot of races and lost a lot of races, so I know you don’t want to be overconfident,” trainer Todd Pletcher said, “but I do feel very, very good about the way he’s coming into it.”

In the Preakness, Always Dreaming will break from the No. 4 post, a spot that has produced 13 winners but none since Curlin in 2007. One spot over on his outside will be Classic Empire, last year’s 2-year-old champion who finished fourth in the Derby after getting knocked around coming out of the starting gate.

“If anything, I have a greater respect for Always Dreaming,” said Mark Casse, who trains Classic Empire. “I think he’s going to be tougher to beat than I thought he would be going into the Derby.”

As the Derby champ, Always Dreaming will have a bulls-eye on his back in a smaller field going a shorter distance than two weeks ago.

“I would imagine that they are going to target us and the target is right next to you,” Pletcher said. “We’re just focused on hopefully breaking cleanly and smoothly and letting him run to the first turn a little bit.”

Neither Velazquez nor Pletcher has won the Preakness. Velazquez is 0 for 7, with his best finish being second in 2011 aboard Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Pletcher is 0 for 8, with his highest finish coming in 2000 when Impeachment was third.

Conquest Mo Money, a 15-1 shot, has consistently run at or near the lead in his five career races. Always Dreaming and Classic Empire have also shown speed.

Casse’s ideal scenario involves Always Dreaming and Conquest Mo Money dueling in the early stages. If the pace is too fast, it gives closers a chance to make a winning run at the end.

“We sit behind and watch,” he said.

Even with Always Dreaming’s dominance this year, eight of the past 12 Derby winners did not win the Preakness.

There’s a posse of contenders that would love to extend that history.

One of them is Conquest Mo Money, who supplemented to the Preakness for $150,000. He could use his speed to pressure Always Dreaming early or go for the lead outright. Another is Cloud Computing, who figures to be sitting just off the leaders.

Lookin At Lee is a closer who could come running late under Lanerie.

“I love the way my horse finishes,” he said. “He’s taken on everything you could throw at him.”

Other closers looking to pounce are Gunnevera (10th in the Derby), Hence (11th in the Derby) and new shooters Multiplier, Senior Investment and Term of Art.

British horse racing inspired by Formula 1 for new series

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LONDON (AP) British horse racing is drawing inspiration from motor racing for a new championship.

Twelve branded teams will compete over eight consecutive Thursdays at different race courses across Britain when “The Series” is launched by Championship Horse Racing in 2019.

The aim is for each team to feature 30 horses and four jockeys. Each of the teams will enter one horse into each of the races to create 12-runner fields.

Organizers say a Formula One-style points system will be used to determine the winners of championships for teams and jockeys.

Championship Horse Racing CEO Jeremy Wray says it’s a chance to engage fans with “bite-size, interactive content.”

The Series has been developed with the Jockey Club, which hopes to attract a new audience to horse racing.

Kanthaka wins San Vicente prep at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Long shot Kanthaka won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on Saturday at Santa Anita, giving Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a second Kentucky Derby prospect.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Kanthaka ran seven furlongs in 1:22.62 and paid $24.20, $7.20 and $4.80 at 11-1 odds in the field of six 3-year-olds.

Hollendorfer also trains Derby contender Instilled Regard.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Nero returned $7.80 and $5.60 at 9-1 odds. All Out Blitz, another 9-1 shot that was another 12 lengths back in third, returned $5 to show.”

Ax Man, the 2-5 favorite also trained by Baffert, was under intense early pressure from his post along the rail and faltered badly in the stretch to finish fourth.

“I would completely throw this race out,” said Drayden Van Dyke, who rode Ax Man.

Kanthaka was next-to-last midway around the far turn before cutting inside All Out Blitz a quarter mile from the finish of the Grade 2 race.

“He gave me a great run and he did everything right,” Prat said. “He broke like a bullet but then we had quite a lot of speed in front of us. So he sat really nicely behind the speed and made a really nice run around the turn.”

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Kanthaka’s career earnings to $153,440, with two wins in three starts.