Most Americans only get fired up about horse racing three times a year: the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness Stakes on the third Saturday of May, and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after the Preakness.
So how much attention the Belmont receives in 2017 largely depends on what Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming does in the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. The 1 3/16-mile race is slightly shorter than the Derby with a post time of 6:48 p.m. ET from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Always Dreaming took heavy late action for the Kentucky Derby to pass Classic Empire as the +450 betting favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, and the colt won by 2 3/4 lengths on a sloppy track over longshots Lookin At Lee and Battle Of Midway. It was Always Dreaming’s fourth straight win but first outside the state of Florida. Also, it was the fifth consecutive time a favorite won the Derby, a first in the race’s history.
For trainer Todd Pletcher, it was a second career Derby win. He often has his horses skip the Preakness Stakes to keep them fresh for the Belmont. Thus Always Dreaming will be only Pletcher’s ninth Preakness horse, and he has yet to saddle a winner.
Always Dreaming is the -125 betting favorite for Saturday. The Derby winner has been favored in the past four Preakness Stakes. American Pharoah (2015) and California Chrome (2014) both won, while Nyquist finished third in 2016 and Orb was fourth in 2013. Of the past 20 Preakness winners, 10 also took the Derby.
The track is expected to be fast and dry at Pimlico, and it’s a 10-horse field compared to the congested 20 at the Kentucky Derby. Traffic at the start of that race likely ended the chances of Classic Empire as he was nearly knocked down coming out of the gate but rallied to finish fourth. Two other horses among the favorites, Irish War Cry and McCraken, also were caught up in the collision.
Classic Empire (+300) is among four Derby horses to get another shot at Always Dreaming, who will start from Post 4. Classic Empire goes from Post 5 and attempts to become only the eighth two-year-old male champion to win the Preakness since the Eclipse Awards were created in 1971. Four of those seven would win the Triple Crown, including American Pharoah.
Lookin At Lee (+1000) looks to become the second straight Derby runner-up to win the Preakness after Exaggerator in 2016. Lookin At Lee, starting from Post 9, is son of 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky. There have been 10 Preakness champions sired by a Preakness winner, including Exaggerator (Curlin).
There are five “new shooters” in the field who have the advantage of being better-rested. Most top horses have at least a month in between races, but it will be just the two weeks for those Derby runners. The shortest odds among the new shooters belongs to Cloud Computing (Post 2) at +1400. The colt didn’t race as a two-year-old and has yet to win a stakes race.