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.

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.