The Associated Press MORNING JOG: With exercise rider Nick Bush aboard, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming walks past the starting gate after a workout Thursday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, site of the 142nd Preakness on Saturday.

The Associated Press MORNING JOG: With exercise rider Nick Bush aboard, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming walks past the starting gate after a workout Thursday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, site of the 142nd Preakness on Saturday.

Casse, Pletcher envision Preakness pace

By Bob Wisener
This article was published May 19, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

Trainer Mark Casse envisions a dream scenario for the Preakness that sees Classic Empire victorious after two rivals battle it out early.

The Arkansas Derby winner is early 3-1 second choice in Saturday's race at Pimlico after finishing a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Derby May 6 at Churchill Downs. Always Dreaming, the 4-5 program favorite for the Preakness, won the Derby by 2 3/4 lengths over Lookin At Lee with a stalk-and-pounce trip.


Always Dreaming, trained by Todd Pletcher, breaks from post four and Classic Empire from post five in the Preakness with a field of 10 3-year-olds going a mile and three-sixteenths. Post time is 5:48 p.m. CDT with live coverage on NBC (Resort Channel 4) and legal wagering at Oaklawn Park and online at

"Todd's horse has rated before, but I think he rated on the outside. Now he's going to have to rate on the inside," Casse said. "I would be really surprised if you don't see Conquest Mo Money (post 10) up in the picture early. I love (Always Dreaming and Classic Empire) being side by side, and I like it a lot better that we're outside and he's inside. The start's going to be important. It allows us to have more options. Always Dreaming has one of the best riders in the world, so I'm sure Johnny (Velazquez) will figure it out.

"If I could draw it out, Always Dreaming would go full tilt and him and Conquest Mo Money go at it for about three-quarters of a mile, and we sit behind them and watch," Casse said. "That's my dream. That won't happen, but you (reporters) asked."

Classic Empire overcame a bumping episode early in the Derby to finish fourth, almost nine lengths behind Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming. Julien Leparoux keeps the mount on Classic Empire, last year's male juvenile champion and early-season Derby favorite before set back by an eventful training schedule in Florida.

"If anything I have a greater respect for Always Dreaming," Casse said. "I think he's going to be tougher to beat than I thought he would be going into the Derby."

Pletcher called post five "an ideal spot for Classic Empire. If I were them, I would be happy with that post. I would imagine that they are going to target us and the target is right next to you. It probably gives him a little bit of a tactical advantage from that perspective. We're just focused on hopefully breaking cleanly and smoothly and letting him run to the first turn a little bit.

"I think Johnny will get a sense of how much speed the other horses are showing," Pletcher said. "On paper, Always Dreaming, Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money are the horses that have consistently shown the most speed. As you know, gates open, things change. On paper that's where it seems like most of the pace will come from."

  • Conquest Mo Money, the Sunland Derby and Arkansas Derby runner-up, is the first classic starter for 81-year-old owner Tom McKenna, trainer Miguel Hernandez and jockey Jorge Carreno.

Hernandez, 51, saddled his first horse late in 2014, more than a year after the Mexico City native and former jockey suffered a career-ending back injury at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.

"It's like a dream for us to come this far, this fast, to be a trainer," Hernandez said. "I've never thought about having a stakes horse like this and being here. I didn't want to be in New Mexico forever and never come out. To come here is totally different."

Hernandez said he got on-the-job training before becoming a trainer.

"When I was riding I was asking the trainer, 'What are you doing with this horse?"' he said. "I tried to learn before I became a trainer. I didn't think I was going to be a trainer that soon, but it came to me and it was good for me to learn how. Now, I'm learning faster than before."

Hernandez will match skills in the Preakness with such accomplished veterans as Pletcher, a multiple Eclipse Award winner, and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. In addition, 2016 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown is represented by his first Preakness starter, Cloud Computing.

"I'm honored to follow those guys and learn from the big trainers. This is a good experience for us," Hernandez said. "The people are really friendly. The horses are totally different, really classy stakes horses. It's really nice."

  • Senior Investment, an Oaklawn allowance winner for trainer Ken McPeek, comes off a nose victory in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland April 15 after placing sixth in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. With Oaklawn regular Channing Hill aboard, Senior Investment breaks from post eight in the Preakness.

"I don't think he could have won the Louisiana Derby, but he had an inside trip and I've learned to keep him clear," McPeek said. "I don't have to be outside with him. I just have to keep things out of his way.

"After the Oaklawn win, I have been very high on him," said McPeek, who trained 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava and 1995 Kentucky Derby runner-up Tejano Run. "I thought I was going to win by a length that day and he really sprinted out. He really has great turn of foot."

Sports on 05/19/2017

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