Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sports

Buzz-less Preakness perfect for Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming

RECOMMENDED READING


BALTIMORE — This year's Preakness has lacked the buzz and lifeblood that sometimes can accompany the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

There is no freak-of-nature horse.

There is no outrageous trainer.

There is no one who really believes a major upset is possible.

The civility of everyone is stifling.

It's a perfect fit for Todd Pletcher and his Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Always Dreaming.

Pletcher works his colt at 5:30 every morning, when the track is relatively quiet. He follows that up with his daily 8 a.m. news briefing, where he tells everyone how good his colt is training for Saturday's race. Then he conducts TV interviews and retreats to his office.

He has started 48 horses in the Kentucky Derby, winning twice. Always Dreaming will be his ninth Preakness start, a race he's never won.

The only reason Pletcher is at historic but crumbling Pimlico Race Course is because he has the Kentucky Derby winner. He almost never runs a horse back after two weeks.

"Our home base is Belmont, and it's a special race for us," Pletcher said of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown. "We've kind of taken our best shot at that by taking a pass on the Preakness and using that five weeks to prepare.

"I really have tremendous respect for the Preakness. It's something I'd love to win. It's just in a lot of cases, we felt like our horses needed a little more time to recover. Not all of them have bounced out of the Derby as well as it seems Dreaming has."

Pletcher has boasted — which with him is very low key — all week about how well his horse is doing.

"He's shown us everything we were hoping for leading us back in two weeks," Pletcher said Thursday. "Tank seems full. He seems eager to go. We're just trying to keep him on the ground one more day."

The closest thing to a controversy happened before the Derby, when Pletcher changed exercise riders and added draw reins to Always Dreaming's morning workouts. Draw reins keep a horse's head lower and give more control to the rider.

Nick Bush was added as the new exercise rider because he was stronger than his predecessor and had experience with draw reins.

"It's was critical that we made the change at Churchill (Downs)," Pletcher said. "We need to get (Always Dreaming) under control, get him slowed down a little bit. Nick was able to do that."

On Monday, Pletcher saw a possible Triple Crown flash before his eyes when Always Dreaming stumbled on the Pimlico surface.

"The problem was that he was trying to buck with the draw reins on," Pletcher said. "That's why he kind of stumbled. Without the draw reins, he would have wanted to have a little breeze. What we're seeing out there gives us the same feel we were getting at Churchill. He's on it. He's feeling good. He's high energy."

Pletcher is not Always Dreaming's only trainer.

Anthony and Mary Ellen Bonomo bought the colt for $350,000 at Keeneland's September sale in 2015. Pletcher also had his eye on the colt, putting forth a losing bid on behalf of Let's Go Stables.

The horse was placed in the barn of Dominick Schettino, where Always Dreaming ran a third at Belmont and a second at Saratoga.

"We knew he was a talented horse from his races at Saratoga and Belmont," Pletcher said.

At the end of the Saratoga meet, the Bonomos merged their stable with that of childhood friend Vincent Viola, owner of the NHL's Florida Panthers, and his wife, Teresa. A lot of the horses were transferred to Pletcher, who had been training for the Violas.

"We really got the sense (how good he was) once we started breezing him," Pletcher said. "He was a very good horse. We consistently saw that all winter."

The horse's first race for Pletcher was an 111/2-length win in a maiden special race at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar this year. He then shipped to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, where he won an optional claiming race by 4 lengths and made a huge jump to win the Florida Derby by 5 lengths.

And then there was the Kentucky Derby.

"Todd has an ability to see things in horses that nobody sees — how to change on the fly," Anthony Bonomo said. "You know great coaches are the ones that make halftime adjustments.

"His adjustment with Always Dreaming (was key), going to the draw reins and figuring out a way to calm down a young colt who just wants to run. I think that's where Todd is. He sees things that nobody sees."

Pletcher plans only to jog Always Dreaming on Friday. Some might call that consistent. Others might say it's superstitious.

"(I'm doing it) partly because that's what we did the day before the Derby," Pletcher said with a chuckle. "I'd like to take the draw reins off him and let him stretch his neck a little bit."

At the Preakness, the horses are saddled on the turf course, to the inside of the dirt course, rather than in the paddock. Pletcher, as is his policy, plans to saddle Always Dreaming in the paddock before walking him to the turf course.

He says he's not being disrespectful. It's just keeping everything in its place.

Comments
Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

TAMPA — The firepower showed up in the third period.Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat scored 13 seconds apart. Gourde scored again.Suddenly it was a one-goal game, and the Lightning appeared on its way to one of those comeback wins that would be remember...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

TAMPA — If you told coach Jon Cooper his team would open the season with wins in 15 of the first 19 games, well, "I’m not sure I can sit here and say I would have predicted that," he said Saturday morning.But the Lightning did just that to lead the N...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosMonster Energy Cup: Ford EcoBoost 4003 p.m.NBCCFLSaskatchewan at Toronto1 p.m.ESPNewsEdmonton at Calgary4:30 p.m.ESPNewsCollege basketballMonmouth at Virginia1 p.m.FSFWomen: Maryland at Connecticut1:30 p.m.ESPNPuerto Rico Tip-Off, fifth pla...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

This is what happens when you have the best record in the league: You get the best from the other team. The Islanders came out strong and the Lightning couldn’t match it, falling behind 4-0 early in the third. For the most part, the Lightning has bee...
Updated: 9 hours ago
No. 14 UCF rolls Temple 45-19, heads to War on I-4 unbeaten

No. 14 UCF rolls Temple 45-19, heads to War on I-4 unbeaten

PHILADELPHIA — There were so many reasons for UCF coach Scott Frost to worry about his team’s focus. With a huge game against USF looming, playing an improving Temple team in a stadium where the empty seats outnumbered the filled ones by about a 3-1 ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

TAMPA — In the spring of 2010, one of the biggest debates during the week leading up to the NFL draft was which defensive tackle would be selected first: Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy.Both figured to be highly productive NFL pla...
Updated: 9 hours ago
No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

MIAMI — After Miami clinched the first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division crown in program history, upset the then-No. 3 team in the country, claimed one of the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings and after many of the nat...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

TAMPA — It’s still way early, but if the Lightning’s record start continues, there will be a lot of hardware up for grabs. And we’re not just talking about the Stanley Cup. Nikita Kucherov has league MVP written all over him. Andrei Vasilevskiy coul...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

TAMPA — Belief is the biggest attribute a quarterback can bring to his team. Belief in his talent. Belief in his commitment to winning. Belief in his ability to bring everyone together and have his voice lead the path forward.But the belief the Bucs ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Updated: 9 hours ago