His voice weary from a lingering cold and the emphatic celebrating that comes with having a classic winner, trainer Todd Pletcher stated all was well with newly minted Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Always Dreaming the morning after the colt's stirring triumph in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
In a performance that cemented his freak status, Always Dreaming gave his future Hall of Fame conditioner a second Kentucky Derby victory when he rated off stout early fractions and still drew off for a 2 3/4-length win over longshot Lookin At Lee. The high-energy son of Bodemeister will now travel to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes (G1), likely shipping out of Louisville May 9.
"He came out of it outstanding," said Pletcher, who previously won the Derby with Super Saver in 2010. "He ate up well last night. His energy level is good this morning. I'm still working on the logistics, but we plan to take him to Baltimore soon (and) let him get settled in there. We'll probably just gallop up to the Preakness."
Always Dreaming's brilliant Derby effort validated what the dark bay colt was touting from the moment he got off the van in Louisville. The Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) winner was notoriously aggressive in his morning training to the point where draw reins were added to help keep him contained in his gallops. Pletcher conceded there was real concern about how Always Dreaming would react once the gates flew open, but he was a complete professional in the paddock and a beast over the rain-soaked course.
"We knew coming in we had a good chance. We had some anxious moments during the week but we were happy to see him deliver the performance we thought he was capable of," Pletcher said. "(Jockey John Velazquez) said his first step wasn't perfect, but he was able to get him going and that was part of our strategy, to get him into the flow of the race and clear some of the traffic.
"I thought a critical point was when State of Honor showed the initiative to go to the lead and Johnny was able to move outside of him and put him in a stalking position—get him into a flow."
Among those likely to take another shot at Always Dreaming in Baltimore is runner-up Lookin At Lee. The Steve Asmussen-trained runner got a masterful ride from Corey Lanerie after breaking from the dreaded No. 1 post. He rode the rail past all but the winner and rewarded those who backed him at odds of 33-1. He's the first horse to start from the rail and earn a placing since Risen Star finished third in the 1988 Derby.
"We'll see how we go back to the racetrack, but the Preakness is definitely a real possibility," said Asmussen, who added that his other runners Hence (11th) and Untrapped (12th) were also in good order, but he had no immediate plans for either. "I would think so. (Lookin at Lee) has spoiled us with how durable he is and how good he is mentally."
Pride and frustration was still bubbling through the Mark Casse barn Sunday, as champion Classic Empire walked the shedrow the day after his fourth-place run in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Pioneerof the Nile broke a bit to his outside at the start leaving the final post in the main gate, then got body slammed by McCraken following a chain reaction that appeared to be started by Irish War Cry out of post 17, but still came with a rally in the lane after being pinched back to 13th early.
The result of the brutal trip, which saw McCraken and Classic Empire bump again in the stretch, were some superficial cuts as well as a swollen right eye on his colt, Casse said Sunday. Casse added he wasn't sure if the eye ailment was caused by Classic Empire taking a wad of kickback or from the heavy contact, but said how well the eye heals in the next several days will determine if John Oxley's multiple grade 1 winner goes on to the Preakness.
"His eye doesn't look good this morning. He must have taken a pretty good hit. It's irritated. He can hardly open it right now," Casse said. "I think if he ever showed how great he was, it was yesterday. Which is unfortunate because the average person won't ever see it or understand it. He is truly a great horse. He took the worst of it a few times.
"We'll see how this eye goes, because I'd have to think he could run very good in the Preakness."
McCraken also emerged from his eighth-place finish with battle scars in the form of a puncture wound to his left hind, trainer Ian Wilkes said. The son of Ghostzapper will bypass the rest of the Triple Crown and regroup for a summer campaign.
"He did cut his left hind, near his hind ankle. He's walking sound, but the main thing is to keep it clean and make sure it doesn't get infected," Wilkes said. "We'll just play it by ear from here."
WinStar Farm and Don Alberto Stable's Battle of Midway came out of his third-place finish in good order and will fly back to Southern California May 9, according to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's assistant, Christina Jelm.
"He appears to have come back good," Jelm said. "He ran beautifully. I think he really took to the track well. I wish I could say we won, but it was nice to be in the money and hit the board."
Hollendorfer indicated to Maryland Jockey Club officials that a Preakness run was highly unlikely.
Trainer Chad Brown expressed pride for the fifth-place effort his grade 1-winning charge Practical Joke delivered Saturday, given the fact the Derby's 10-furlong distance was beyond the colt's scope. Brown said the son of Into Mischief was in good order Sunday and would be shortened up in distance going forward.
"I was very pleased with his effort," Brown said. "He got a great trip from that post, and I thought he handled the conditions well. I don't have any complaint with the track. I thought he was getting over it fine. He just wasn't good enough, particularly at that distance. We finally (saw) what his limitations are. He's a very fine racehorse. He just can't go that far. But he was fighting and trying."