BALTIMORE — They call this city Crabtown, and Friday at Pimlico there’s a filly in the Miss Preakness Stakes named Crabcakes. Todd Pletcher has feasted on that Maryland delicacy for nine consecutive days, and he promised to extend the streak through Saturday. On Monday he ate at a place where a former Miss Preakness is a waitress. Pletcher’s birthday is June 26, under the astrological sign Cancer, which in Latin means, incredibly, crab.
OK, I hear you saying, “Enough drivel, alleged expert, and get to the point. Tell me how to make some money Saturday.” All right, here’s a Triple Crown truth: A Kentucky Derby winner has to be lucky and good, but the best horse usually wins the Preakness.
Pletcher trains him, and on paper it’s hard to make a case against Derby winner Always Dreaming, the 4-5 morning-line favorite who may go off at an even shorter price. Pletcher is 0-for-8 in this 1 3/16-mile classic, and the future Hall of Famer may never have a better chance to win it. The likely pace scenario is very favorable, with longshot Conquest Mo Money expected to go for the lead from post 10. Expect Always Dreaming to sit second, as he did in Louisville, with Classic Empire just behind him.
Always Dreaming is in top form, with the tactical speed to work out perfect trips. He’s enjoyed four in a row with John Velazquez, a brilliant position rider. He’s training impressively at Pimlico, where he’s settled in well since arriving three days after the Derby.
“Some of his characteristics remind me of some of the better horses we’ve had, like Lawyer Ron and Quality Road,” Pletcher said. “He’s a great mover and a great galloper, and he’s so efficient. He can get into a high cruising speed and maintain it over a mile and a quarter.”
Recent history also is on Always Dreaming’s side. Eight of the past 10 Derby winners were first or second in the Preakness, with four winning. Pletcher’s first Derby champion, Super Saver in 2010, ran eighth after not showing the energy he had at Churchill Downs. That’s not a worry for Always Dreaming.
“The horse is doing unbelievably well,” Pletcher said. “You never want to be overconfident, but I feel very confident about the way he’s coming into it. He’s sitting on go, and we’re going to try to keep him that way for another 48 hours.”
If you want to challenge the favorite — and who needs a $3.60 win payoff? — 3-1 second choice Classic Empire looks like the only logical alternative. The 2016 2-year-old champion’s Derby chances were canceled at the start when he was sandwiched by two horses. “You wait 37 years for the biggest race of your life, and it’s over in 10 seconds,” trainer Mark Casse said. “We got clobbered. We got hit by a linebacker.”
Classic Empire ran well to be fourth, beaten 8¾ lengths, after injuries kept him from getting in more than two Derby preps. Maybe he’ll be fitter, yet his figures are inferior to Always Dreaming’s. Even with a good trip, it will be tough to make up nearly nine lengths, and at 3-1, he’ll be no bargain.
Forget the deep closers, longshots Lookin At Lee, Gunnevera, Hence, Term of Art and Senior Investment. The last Preakness winner to go from last to first was Little Current in 1974.
Pletcher dislikes running horses back in two weeks, but according to brisnet.com, since 2011 he has won 26 percent of his starts off layoffs of 11-20 days.
“It’s a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know how they’re going to respond to that until the stretch,’’ Pletcher said. “Until they get in the heat of the battle, you don’t know whether they’ve got that extra reserve.’’
So, here are my 1-2-3-4 picks, with apologies for being chalky: Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, Conquest Mo Money.