Pletcher confident of Derby winner at Preakness

Horse Racing: 143rd Kentucky Derby

(Reuters) – Trainer Todd Pletcher oozed confidence over his Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming on Thursday after early morning training at Pimlico ahead of Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

“The horse is doing unbelievably well in the two-week turnaround,” Pletcher said at Pimlico’s annual Alibi Breakfast ahead of the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown for three year olds.

“The way he’s moving, the way he’s acting, the way he’s getting over the track, we feel really blessed that he’s coming into the race this way.”

Pletcher added the colt had been aggressive and hard to handle during training prior to the Kentucky Derby, so he decided to send him to Baltimore three days after the Derby to relax while being prepped for the Preakness.

“I think we got exactly what we hoped we would get when we got here, a good, quiet setting,” Pletcher said.

“The horse was able to settle in very well and have a relatively peaceful first week.

“We anticipated that things would build up this week with other horses coming in, and more people coming in. I think that initial week to settle in was beneficial.

“The tank seems full. He seems eager to go. We’re just trying to keep him on the ground one more day.”

Classic Empire, rated 3-1 in the early line, also seems primed for the race after jogging a mile and galloping a mile in his Thursday workout.

“He was focused and happy,” trainer Mark Casse said. “He was ready to go and do his job.”

Classic Empire, the early Derby favorite, finished fourth in Louisville despite being knocked around in a collision a few steps out of the gate on the sloppy track.

Conditions should be better on Saturday and Classic Empire will be starting just outside of Always Dreaming in the fifth starting gate for the mile and 3/16ths race.

“I love (them) being side by side, and I like it a lot better that we’re outside and he’s inside,” said Casse.

“The start’s going to be important. It allows us to have more options.”

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)