I hate to be the party pooper at the ultimate party but let’s be honest here, Classic Empire has got the goods. You know it. Everyone knows it. Even the people in the Pimlico infield know it.
Actually, they probably don’t know it but that has nothing to do with their priorities.
Because Classic Empire has got the goods, the chance of Always Dreaming winning the Triple Crown is, in my humble (not infield influenced) estimation, a longshot at best.
The story at the Derby was Always Dreaming was training like Rocky in the woods getting ready to take down Ivan Drago. You knew it. And if you didn’t know it, it means you weren’t literally paying attention to anything. So, the worst kept secret in Kentucky Derby history turned everyone into a sharp for a day.
Here’s the problem, the likelihood of him staying that sharp two weeks later is slim, which brings me back to my original premise — Classic Empire is quite possibly just the better horse.
So here’s the story I expect to be told in three weeks: We’ll be settling this once and for all — Round 3, Belmont Stakes.
Here’s the field for the Preakness Stakes:
1. Multiplier: My head is still spinning from the massive payday the Derby produced despite the favorite winning. So, maybe I’m just eager to see lighting strike twice, or maybe this guy is a huge value at 30-1 in my exotic bets. I get it, one stakes race —and not the one that sends you to Louisville — on his résumé, but look closely at that win at the Illinois Derby, the split times are excellent and he started on the rail. Just keep this little secret between you and me. Cheers!
2. Cloud Computing: I don’t get it. How is he 12-1, the fourth choice when the morning line was set? He’s run three times total and the last two involved horses who were at the Derby and the finishes were the same, never sniffed the lead then ultimately faded. What am I missing here? Clearly something, which is why I can’t toss him … but he is NOT winning.
3. Hence: So, he found himself at the back of the pack in turn one at the Derby, hence, he never had a shot. Let’s get a do over with this guy, who was beyond impressive in the Sunland Derby. This field isn’t as talented as the one two weeks ago and, of course, isn’t as deep, hence, he’s got nice value.
4. Always Dreaming: Repeat what he did in Louisville, then the Brooklyn Boyz are going to be throwing a HUGE house party at Belmont. But if he doesn’t quite have those goods again, he’ll be tested. Partially, it’s the gambler in me looking at 4-5 odds going, “nah.” Part of me also thinks there never was a super horse in the field, so he’s going to have to make me see it to believe it. And part of me thinks the horse next him to is just better.
5. Classic Empire: Still to this day, the best race run by any of the major Triple Crown contenders was the one Classic Empire ran at the Sentient Jet Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in November. Yes, I know that was a long time ago; and yes, I know I normally poo poo things like that. Shut up. His rally in the Arkansas Derby told you he’s got the kind of goods few do, so without the slop and the awful trip that Churchill Downs gave him, he’s the one.
6. Gunnevera: I hitched my wagon to this pony a couple of weeks ago as my “most likely to hit the board and maybe even steal this thing” pick. That. Did. Not. Work. Out. There is a jockey change to Mike Smith which, considering it was Javier Castellano on him previously, I think we’d be splitting hairs over whether this is an upgrade or not. I’ll just repeat what my belief was heading into the Derby, if he runs his best, he’ll be a threat and may just win. I’m just nowhere near as confident about it this time.
7. Term of Art: I asked Churchill Downs analyst Joe Kristufek about this horse and his response was that trainer Doug O’Neil likes the after-party in the barns, so he’s got that going for him. Got it.
8. Senior Investment: He had a really strong bounce-back race after a dud in the Louisiana Derby, but my gut says his best just isn’t good enough. I’ll give him a fighting chance, more so then Term of Art, but probably passing altogether.
9. Lookin At Lee: This guy got the rare, dream inside trip at the Derby and ultimately crushed my exotic bets. We all knew some huge bomb was about to hit the tote board. My recon didn’t point me in his direction. So, he sunk my battleship once. He won’t do it again.
10. Conquest Mo Money: I’m going to refer to him as Conundrum Mo Money. This is the horse Classic Empire barely ran down at Oaklawn. He’s the one Hence had to pull away from late at the Sunland Derby. That leads to the easy conclusion that he’s really good, but clearly not good enough. But, he’s the one who didn’t race two weeks ago. He’s the one who may have shown that there is a higher ceiling for him to go. He might have to be the one they have to run down and this time, they might not catch him.
Here’s the biggest question, who is going to set the pace and what is that pace going to look like? Conquest Mo Money and Always Dreaming are the only ones who appear to be the type that don’t like to stalk, so I’m expecting them to race out to the front. Now, how fast do they go? If the pace is a little hot, Always Dreaming is going down and Mo Money is making No Money. If they keep the pace moderate, then they both may have enough to hold off the obvious late chargers here. In fact, the way this is setting up, there could be five or six horses right there gunning for the win.
The Pick: Classic Empire. The trip shouldn’t be an issue and I doubt, starting midpack, he’ll have to be too far off the pace. But this thing is going to have a wild finish. I don’t expect him to win by more than a length at most and the race for the wire is going to be a sight to see.
The Full Milty: Trifecta key — Classic Empire over all of them with the exception of Term of Art.
Full Milty part deux: Superfecta Box — Multiplier, Hence, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, Lookin At Lee, Conquest Mo Money