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.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.