The half-moon was still high in the sky when Always Dreaming went to the track at Pimlico Race Course at 5:30 a.m. the morning of May 19 to put in his final exercise in preparation for the following day's Preakness Stakes (G1).
With regular exercise rider Nick Bush aboard, the son of Bodemeister jogged a mile while accompanied by a pony, the same routine he went through the day prior to his victory in the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
"He was well behaved, nice and quiet, (and) jogged around enthusiastically," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who noted that his charge will walk Preakness morning. "All the preparation is done. He seems like he is ready to roll."
During his daily press conference, a very relaxed Pletcher said he believes Always Dreaming is "pretty special," and cited the colt's string of impressive victories in as many starts this year, including an 11-length romp to break his maiden, a four-length triumph in allowance company, and impressive victories in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Derby. With a record of 6-4-1-1, Always Dreaming has earned more than $2.2 million.
"When you look at what he's done this year, to win his first two races by open lengths and to win the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby by the margins he did, it's pretty exceptional," Pletcher said. "It's pretty rare that you see that."
The colt trained by Dominic Schettino as a 2-year-old before going to Pletcher in September impressed his new handler over the winter and spring, including a steady stream of strong works in between his races.
"He just kept stepping up, getting better and better, and was so consistent," Pletcher said. "We were pretty enthusiastic about him from early on."
With early training hours due to the first post time of 11:30 a.m. ET for the Friday card that features the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), the Preakness contenders went to the track early, with the connections of Gunnevera reporting the Dialed In colt was strong in his gallop.
"He had a very easy gallop, and at one point was showing so much strength to the rider he open galloped a little bit," assistant trainer Alessandro Sano said the Derby seventh-place finisher. "He's looking phenomenal. We're very confident in our horse, although it will not be an easy race."
Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire, who had a rough early trip in the Derby before rallying to finish fourth, "looked super" in his morning exercise, when he jogged a mile and then galloped a mile.
Casse reiterated his new-found respect for Always Dreaming, noting that he had more confidence going into the Derby with the son of Pioneerof the Nile who was 2016 champion 2-year-old.
"ISomebody asked me 'were you more confident going into the Derby?' and I said 'probably because
I didn't give Always Dreaming as much credit as I should," Casse said. "Now, watching him run, I'm like maybe we can't beat (him), even with our best effort. But I think we'll make him run. I think he's a really good horse. But we have a really good horse and when you put two really good horses together, something's going to happen."
Casse said he hoped for a better trip in the Preakness.
"Win, lose, or draw. If they beat us, then they beat us. I just want a shot."