(PhatzRadio Sports / AP) —- BALTIMORE — Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and his main rival, Classic Empire, will break from the middle of the gate in the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
Always Dreaming drew the No. 4 post and is the 4-5 morning-line favorite for Todd Pletcher, who is looking for his first win at the Preakness as he chases a shot at the 13th Triple Crown in the history of the sport.
Classic Empire (3-1) is the second favorite and drew the fifth spot. Slammed a few steps out of the gate by a crush of horses trying to get to the middle of the track in Kentucky, the colt’s connections have been relentlessly — albeit respectfully — calling for a clean, square rematch.
The draw should give it to them.
“I’m happier that we’re in 5 than if we were in 4, because it means we’re not going to let them go,” Classic Empire trainer Mark Casse said. “(Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) will be in position to see exactly what they want to do, and he’s not going to make it easy on them. If we need to go, we’ll go.”
They may be going after Conquest Mo Money (15-1), who will break from the 10th gate and could dart out to set the early pace. He is trying to become just the third horse to skip the Kentucky Derby but win the Preakness since 2000. And Bernardini did it in 2006 after Derby winner Barbaro broke down early in the race.
Not that Tom McKenna, the 81-year-old who paid all of $8,500 for Conquest Mo Money, is daunted by the odds now. He never expected to come close to a race of this magnitude. He’s here with a horse his private trainer once wrote off as too lazy. Everything has been surreal. Why not keep dreaming?
“I want to see him in the winner’s circle,” McKenna said Wednesday when ask what he expected to come from Saturday’s race.
McKenna, who made a career ranching in Colorado and New Mexico, bought a few thoroughbreds 14 years ago thinking he would get into breeding. He quickly realized he wouldn’t make any money selling horses in New Mexico, and instead took them to the track under the name of Judge Lanier Racing, for the grandfather who taught him to love horses when he was a child.
The stable has run in the relative obscurity, and has burst onto the national scene with the most unlikely star. McKenna purchased six horses last fall when the owners of Conquest Stable got out of the racing business, and Conquest Mo Money — despite being a son of the highly-touted stallion Uncle Mo — was the cheapest of the bunch.
He didn’t impress back in New Mexico, either. Trainer Miguel Hernandez was thrilled to receive the new horses, raving about all but one.
“So I said, ‘What about this Uncle Mo horse?’” McKenna recalled. “And he just say, ‘Eh, he’s lazy.’ So I told him to just keep working him and we’ll see what happens.”
Conquest Mo Money broke his maiden in January at Sunland Park, then won a stakes race by 11 lengths a few weeks later.
“I didn’t think he had that in him until he did it, to be honest,” said jockey Jorge Carreno, who has served as the colt’s primary exercise rider as well. “Before that, he was talented, yes, but it was only after that race I knew he was the best horse we’d ever had.”
A second-place finish at the Arkansas Derby — by half a length to Classic Empire — gave Conquest Mo Money enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but McKenna opted not to enter. He felt like another race so soon would be too much for a young horse, and he believes the field of 20 makes the Derby unfair and dangerous.
“Bumper cars,” he said. “It’s all about your trip. It’s not a race.”
McKenna also would have had to pay $200,000 to enter the Derby because Conquest Mo Money was not Triple Crown nominated (which would have cost $600 in January or $6,000 if completed by a March deadline). He paid $150,000 to enter the Preakness.
He and his wife of 36 years, Sandy, arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday and visited their horse Wednesday and heard a report from Hernandez, who was promised a job from McKenna after breaking a vertebrae in his back while serving as a jockey in 2013. He took over the full barn about a year later.
“I bet you maybe like two minutes before the race I’ll be shaking,” Hernandez said. “But this is just something that I never thought would happen in my life.”
Which is part of what makes the Triple Crown interesting: a forgotten horse like Conquest Mo Money from a far-flung barn conditioned by a workaday trainer can challenge the gem of Pletcher’s vast, well-funded operation.
“He continues to surprise us,” McKenna said. “He continues to get better and better each race. As well as he’s training now, I don’t know what to expect. But he won’t embarrass us, I guarantee you that.”
Lookin At Lee, second in the Derby, is the third favorite at 10-1. Cloud Computing, at 12-1, is the top new shooter and Gunnevera, seventh in Kentucky, is also 15-1.
Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Morning line odds
1. Multiplier, B. Walsh, J. Rosario Ill., 30-1
2. Cloud Computing, C. Brown, J. Castellano, 12-1
3. Hence, S. Asmussen, F. Geroux, 20-1
4. Always Dreaming, T. Pletcher, J. Velazquez, 4-5
5. Classic Empire, M. Casse, J. Leparoux, 3-1
6. Gunnevera, A. Sano, M. Smith, 15-1
7. Term of Art, D. O’Neill, J. Ortiz, 30-1
8. Senior Investment, K. McPeek, C. Hill, 30-1
9. Lookin At Lee, S. Asmussen, C. Lanerie, 10-1
10. Conquest Mo Money, M.Hernandez, J. Carreno, 15-1