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    Classic Empire should find clearer sailing in the Preakness

    Exercise rider Martin Rivera gallops Preakness Stakes entrant Classic Empire at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Friday, May 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
    garry jones/AP
    Classic Empire galloped at Pimlico under exercise rider Martin Rivera Friday morning.

    The Preakness is a two-horse race between Always Dreaming and Classic Empire.

    To discern how it might turn out, you can watch a replay of the Kentucky Derby and see how different it was for those two colts.

    Always Dreaming broke from the starting gate straight and true from post No. 5. He was hustled toward the front by jockey John Velazquez, who secured a spot near the rail to save ground on the first turn behind front-runner State of Honor.


    Once he straightened out on the backstretch, Velazquez maneuvered Always Dreaming to be on the outside of State of Honor. It was subtle and brilliant.

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    From that position, Velazquez was in perfect position to grab the lead and move on to a decisive victory. He never encountered a problem.

    Classic Empire, on the other hand, veered a little to the outside out of the gate from post No. 14, then was swarmed by a number of horses, getting roughed up and then bouncing to the inside. After finally getting into a straight path, he had problems with another horse behind him.

    Jockey Julien Leparoux settled into a spot around the first turn, but he was on the outside, probably not the best place to be, when he tried to make his run to the wire. Then in midstretch, he got sideswiped again. Despite all that, he continued to give a full effort and finished fourth.

    There are two schools of thought on how to react to the Derby:


    1. Maybe Always Dreaming’s natural ability to run freely to the lead was the reason he had no trouble, and the Preakness will be a repeat of that.

    2. Classic Empire ran a courageous race, and if he encounters no trouble in the Preakness (which is possible, with half as many horses entered), he will prevail. One other factor in this school of thought is that the Kentucky Derby winner is often overrated and definitely over-bet in the Preakness.

    I’m in school No. 2, and here’s why. I liked Classic Empire better than Always Dreaming before the Derby. He was the best of his generation a year ago but encountered problems in preparing for the Derby — a slight injury and some stubbornness about training in the morning.

    His trainer, Mark Casse, said this to reporters Thursday: “He had so many things go wrong, any of which could have cost him the race.’’

    Based on his victory in the Arkansas Derby and his resolute performance in Kentucky, I think he is past that.


    Classic Empire should be able to get away from the gate more cleanly this time and find a nice spot to follow Always Dreaming closely and then overtake him in the stretch.

    I do have one reservation: Leparoux. He’s not as good a jockey as Velazquez. Normally, the jockeys in the Preakness are all highly skilled and therefore almost a nonfactor. Not in this case.

    Leparoux is capable of doing this correctly, but he can’t employ a strategy of sitting far back (he likes to do that) while Always Dreaming lopes along near the lead. He has to give chase and be within striking distance throughout the race.

    So if Leparoux gets Classic Empire in that position, I think he’s the better horse, just as I did before his nightmare trip in the Derby.

    It looks like a cold exacta: Classic Empire first, Always Dreaming second. I will use some other horses under Classic Empire — Cloud Computing and Hence — to try to get a better price.

    Cloud Computing is lightly raced but trained by Chad Brown, one of the best in the country. Brown has not won a Triple Crown race and he’s eager to do so. I expect his horse to run well.

    In the Derby, Hence was a bit of a wise-guy selection, meaning horseplayers who want to go against the flow liked him. He also had some trouble in the race and was coming off an excellent victory in the Sunland Derby. He could be a factor late in the Preakness when he comes from behind.

    Prediction: 1. Classic Empire. 2. Always Dreaming. 3. Cloud Computing.

    Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan.