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.

Triple Crown winner Justify under observation at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Triple Crown winner Justify has re-located to Del Mar where trainer Bob Baffert is keeping him under observation after swelling in his left front ankle emerged two weeks ago.

Baffert says Justify will probably just walk around the stable area for the next two weeks at the track north of San Diego. The probable scenario for the colt is a return to racing sometime in the fall with the ultimate goal being the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

“Right now, we’re just looking to get him 100 percent,” Baffert said Monday. “We’re in a holding pattern. I’d love to run him again because he’s so much fun and exciting to watch. We should know more in a couple of weeks.”

Justify has won all six starts in his brief career that began this year. He has won four straight Grade 1 races, including a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion.

The colt hasn’t had a workout since the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Funtastic wins Monmouth’s United Nations Stakes in 23-1 upset

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Funtastic led all the way in a 23-1 upset Saturday in the $300,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Chad Brown, the Eclipse Award winner the last two years as the nation’s leading trainer, got his third victory in the New Jersey’s biggest turf race. He won with Big Blue Kitten in 2013 and 2015.

The U.N. and the $1 million Haskell on July 29 are the two Grade 1 stakes at Monmouth.

Brown saddled four of the nine runners in the U.N. and ran 1-2 as Money Multiplier rallied to finish a half length behind Funtastic and jockey Antonio Gallardo.

The other two Brown horses were Silverwave (fifth) and Kurilov (eighth).

The time was 2:12.36 for 1 3/8 miles over the firm course.

Funtastic paid $48, $15.80 and $8.60. Money Multiplier, the 2-1 favorite, returned $4 and $2.80.

Bigger Picture, last year’s U.N. winner, was third, paying $5.80 to show.