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Preakness Stakes: Empire can strike back at Pimlico

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Mark Milligan previews Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and picks out his best bet.

With the weather looking set fair in Baltimore on Saturday, the second leg of America’s Triple Crown, the Preakness, should be run on a much drier track than the Kentucky Derby. While plenty failed to run up to their best on the sloppy Churchill Downs dirt, there should be no such excuses among the nine runners set to line up against the Derby winner Always Dreaming.

Always Dreaming himself handled conditions with aplomb under the Twin Spires, always up with the strong pace and running out a convincing winner by nearly three lengths. Given his profile to date, it is hard to pick holes in Todd Pletcher’s representative, but it is perhaps worth noting that he will be a short price and is contesting his fifth race of a year that is barely five months old.

Classic Empire - last year’s leading US juvenile - encountered plenty of trouble at the start of the Kentucky Derby and consequently ended up further back than ideal. With more luck from the stalls, it is not inconceivable to think he could have served up a real challenge to Always Dreaming at Churchill Downs. With his previously errant nature now looking like a thing of the past, Classic Empire could well be the value to take revenge on his Kentucky conqueror.

Lookin At Lee - runner-up at Churchill Downs - may ultimately have been flattered by his finishing position. Settled a long way off the strong pace, Lookin At Lee’s jockey Corey Lanerie barely encountered a stone in his path as he skimmed the rail ‘Calvin Borel’ style all the way round, the gaps opening up like Moses parting the Red Sea. This race is unlikely to be run to such advantage for him, particularly as the pace may not be as strong. Others who contested the Derby such as Gunnevera and Hence are likely to put up better efforts, but again, are very much beholden to pace.

A pair of contenders who didn’t run in Louisville may well provide stiffer opposition than the likes of Lookin At Lee and Gunnevera. Conquest Mo Money’s form ties in strongly with Classic Empire – he finished runner-up to Mark Casse’s charge in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn in April. Knocked down for just $8.5k to current connections last year, Conquest Mo Money could well turn out to be a real money spinner having already won three of his five starts. With Always Dreaming possibly the only one keeping him company on the pace, Conquest Mo Money could well get this run to suit, albeit his wide draw makes things a little tricky.

Chad Brown has rapidly established himself as one of America’s foremost trainers, and he is represented by Cloud Computing, last seen finishing third to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. With just three starts under his belt, Cloud Computing has the potential to rate much higher, although conversely, his lack of experience may be the thing that holds him back in this company against some battle-hardened opponents. Of the others, Illinois Derby winner Multiplier could prove best, though his morning line of odds of 50/1 tell the tale of exactly how strong that Hawthorne contest was.

With the prospect that a series of hard races might catch up with Always Dreaming, and the fact that Classic Empire didn’t really get chance to show his true colours in the Kentucky Derby, the sensible play here is to back the latter at odds of around 5/1. We fancied him to run a big race at Churchill Downs, and given things just didn’t go his way that day, he is worth supporting once more in an effort to recoup those losses.

Recommendation: Back Classic Empire in the Preakness Stakes

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