Pssst, thoroughbred trainers are suspect as touts.
Last week, Churchill Downs’ media department polled several trainers about the Preakness and, one after another, they talked up Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. Well-respected Patrick Byrne went so far as to say the colt had a “legitimate chance” to win the Triple Crown.
Their near unanimity for a horse that finished eighth is something to consider the next time a friend sidles up at Oaklawn Park with a “hot tip” from his second cousin’s hairdresser who knows a certain trainer.
Only Oaklawn regular Brad Cox mentioned Preakness winner Cloud Computing, saying the colt looked good training, but “ … I don’t know how far he wants to go.”
Cloud Computing handled the 1 3-16-mile Preakness distance with no problem, wearing down Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire in the final yards.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s aversion to running a horse with only two weeks rest is worth revisiting after the Pletcher-trained Always Dreaming faded badly.
Earlier this year, Pletcher’s preference for several weeks between races was cited in an examination of why he had dominated Derby prep races, but was only 1-of-45 in the Kentucky Derby and the subject resurfaced when the topic was the two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness.
One nugget from the Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker is repeated for emphasis. He said records from the last five years show Pletcher has started only two horses in Grade I stakes going a route of ground on dirt after layoffs of 12 to 15 days. They were eighth and sixth, beaten more than 40 lengths.
The Preakness is a Grade I route race on dirt, Always Dreaming had 14 days off, and was beaten almost 14 lengths.
Embracing Pletcher’s dismal record with brief turnarounds would not have identified Cloud Computing as the winner, but would have dampened enthusiasm for the heavy favorite.
Pletcher’s only other Derby winner, Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver in 2010, was also eighth in the Preakness and there is little doubt the trainer would have passed on the second leg of the Triple Crown if Always Dreaming had not won the first.
Pletcher was not surprised the colt took the lead immediately, but said, “… I think the turnaround was a little too quick.” He made a similar remark after the 2010 Preakness, leading to the conclusion that he is more likely to run a well-rested 3-year-old than Always Dreaming in the Belmont on June 10.
Unraced at 2, Cloud Computing is the one to beat in New York. Contemplating the colt’s dramatic progress since his first start in mid-February, consider the development of Scottie Pippen.
Coming out of Hamburg, Pippen was 6-foot-1 and a scrawny 150. Either as a favor to Pippen’s high school coach or because he recognized Pippen’s ball-handling prowess, University of Central Arkansas coach Don Dyer offered Pippen a spot as a student manager. His first year, Pippen grew two inches, made the team as a walk-on, and averaged 4.3 points per in 20 games.
“He was like a young colt; he needed time to grow,” Dyer once told The Washington Post.
At 6-foot-8 with guard skills, Pippen averaged 23.6 points and 10 rebounds as a senior and was selected fifth in the 1987 NBA draft. Traded by Seattle to Chicago, Pippen helped Michael Jordan win six championships.
The comparison of player and horse does not guarantee greatness for Cloud Computing, but helps explain how the most inexperienced runner in a field of 10 can prevail in the Preakness.
Advancing the race last week, one TV network said unless Always Dreaming kept alive the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, the Belmont would be a “non-event.”
A horse winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown adds hype to the Belmont but is only a perk for those of us who annually wager on the Derby-Preakness-Belmont and then retire until the Breeders’ Cup.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org