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Monday, May 22, 2017, 2:36 p.m.

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Derby winner sapped; Empire strikes back

By Wally Hall

This article was published May 19, 2017 at 2:09 a.m.

The good news for Saturday's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore is there is no forecast for rain. For now.

Pimlico's track surface is different from Churchill Downs. When it gets wet it gets slippery, and horses tend to struggle more.

That's what beat Sunny's Halo, Oaklawn's first Kentucky Derby winner, in 1983, and it has hampered others since.

With a dry, presumably fast track, Always Dreaming can prove his victory in the Kentucky Derby wasn't a fluke and that he is a champion horse.

In the Run for the Roses, on a very sloppy track, Always Dreaming fell in behind pacesetter State of Honor, moved just outside the mud splatter, and there was not a drop of mud on jockey John Velazquez when he crossed the finish line.

State of Honor ended up beating one horse, and that was Dubai import Thunder Snow, which started bucking out of the gate and was pulled up.

There doesn't appear to be a State of Honor in this race, no true rabbit, which could mean Always Dreaming gets an easy lead and goes wire-to-wire, but there are too many good trainers in this race to let that happen.

Trainer Steve Asmussen could send Sunland Park Derby winner Hence (11th in Kentucky) out to battle for the lead, which might be his best chance. That might also set it up for Looking at Lee, Asmussen's other entrant, who came from 17th place to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, and he actually gained ground on Always Dreaming throughout the final furlong.

Before getting to the most likely winner, another horse to watch out for is Gunnevera, who has had more travel trouble than United Airlines. The last two trips, in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, have been so bad that Mike Smith takes over the reins from Javier Castellano.

Castellano jumped to Cloud Computing, which has become something of a hot name, mostly because he hasn't run since the Wood Memorial when he was third behind Irish War Cry and Battalion Runner. Not sure he's really good enough either.

Understand, being able to read past performances in Daily Racing Form doesn't make you a handicapper, but this is a prediction of how the race will be go.

Conquest Mo Money, the Arkansas Derby runner-up, will either take the lead or be right on the heels of Always Dreaming, which won't get to relax down the backstretch. That kind of pressure has destroyed more than one horse's hopes and dreams.

Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire will settle in third or fourth, and Hence will be following him.

Lookin At Lee and Senior Investment will be in the back of the field. They will be hoping for a fast pace and fading horses in the stretch, something they just might get.

Hence, with Florent Geroux, will move first as the horses enter the stretch, drawing alongside Always Dreaming for about eight strides. Then, Hence hits the wall and starts to fan wide.

At the same time, Classic Empire will fire and start closing ground on Always Dreaming, slowly, then faster and with 100 yards to go he takes the lead.

The track announcer will yell, "And here comes Lookin At Lee," and the Derby runner-up jumps from 10th to fourth and is rolling. But so is Classic Empire, who gets a much better trip than he did in the Kentucky Derby, when he got knocked in the side of the head coming out of the gate and body slammed in the stretch.

Classic Empire hits the finish line first, followed by Looking At Lee. Senior Investment, an allowance winner at Oaklawn in February, beats Always Dreaming in a photo for third.

The $1 4-9-8 trifecta will pay $364.40, and the victory cry in Hot Springs will echo through the night as Oaklawn Park runners finish first, second, third, fifth and eighth in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Immediately, talk will turn to who sat out the Preakness so they could win the Belmont.

Sports on 05/19/2017

Print Headline: Derby winner sapped; Empire strikes back

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WhododueDiligence says... May 19, 2017 at 9:07 a.m.

Or we might see the two favorites in a close duel down the stretch. If Always Dreaming and Classic Empire hit the wire simultaneously, this race will be Henceforth Always Classic.

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WhododueDiligence says... May 19, 2017 at 9:15 a.m.

Whoa, on the other hand when you study past performances until you're bleary-eyed, one thing jumps out at you. Cloud Computing should have absolutely no trouble whatsoever beating the pony express.

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