The pick-four sequence that ends with Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico -- it has a guaranteed pool of $2 million; it handled $2.29 million last year -- is one you might have to get creative in early if you feel the way I do about the big event.
I picked Always Dreaming and Classic Empire one-two in the Preakness. I'm not happy about the lack of imagination those selections represent, but what can I do? Always Dreaming was much the best in winning the Kentucky Derby -- underscored by the fact that every other horse with him on the early pace wound up soundly beaten -- and he finds a much easier pace scenario Saturday. And Classic Empire's fourth in the Derby was fairly remarkable when you consider his brutal trip and that he previously had but one representative race in five months (when you don't count his no-show in the Holy Bull).
I like Always Dreaming more than Classic Empire as a win candidate. But, frankly, these are the only two win candidates I see in this Preakness. Since multi-race exotic wagers are only about winners, I'm using only Always Dreaming and Classic Empire in the Preakness. For me, these two pretty much lock up the last leg of this sequence.
Let's look at the other races in this sequence:
Race 10 (Gallorette): On Leave, who showed a lot of potential in winning two stakes last year at 3, is the morning line favorite. She's coming off a seven-month layoff but has run well fresh in the past and is a must-use. But I'm also using Zipessa in equal strength. Zipessa should benefit from her seasonal debut in the Sheepshead Bay -- which was run on a bog and featured powerful performances from the first two finishers in Sea Calisi and Suffused -- and her two races last fall are good enough to win this.
I'm somewhat against Elysea's World, the likely second choice. She is improved this year but wasn't in On Leave's class last year, so I'll only use her defensively. My two other backups here are Danilovna, who got a dream trip in winning the Dahlia most recently, her first start in five months, and Cambodia, a wide-trip third in the Dahlia.
Race 11 (Sir Barton): I like Time to Travel quite a bit here. Of course, I also liked him last time out in the Lexington, so much so that I made him a play in the Weekend Warrior, and he finished fourth. But Time to Travel showed real talent in his first two career starts at Gulfstream. He was fourth in his debut in a loaded race won by Timeline, who won an allowance race at Aqueduct and the Peter Pan at Belmont in his next two starts with Beyer Speed Figures of 101 and 97. And in his second start, Time to Travel romped over, among others, Meantime, who came back to gallop at Keeneland and finish a game second in the Peter Pan.
Time to Travel never made use of his speed edge in the Lexington. He now gets Lasix for the first time, a high-percentage move for trainer Michael Matz, and he gets a significant rider change to John Velazquez.
While Time to Travel is my only "A" horse in this race, I'll throw in True Timber and Watch Me Whip as backups. One of these days, True Timber will run back to his fine second in the Withers after a terrible start, and Watch Me Whip won his only start at Keeneland like he might be a good horse.
Race 12 (Dixie Stakes): I've got four mains and two backups in this one. My mains are Projected, Blacktype, Catapult, and Ring Weekend. Projected, the winner of a stakes-caliber allowance at Keeneland most recently over, among others, subsequent Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winner Divisidero, is obvious. So is Ring Weekend, who sports many back races that can win this.
But I'm intrigued by Blacktype, and especially Catapult at a price. Forget Blacktype's past-performance trouble line last time in the Maker's 46 Mile. None of it happened. But his close fifth that day off a five-month layoff was a good effort, and he's dangerous with any improvement. Catapult comes off a second in the Danger's Hour that I liked as he chased a loose-on-the-lead course lover in Macagone.
My two backups are World Approval, whose victory in his seasonal debut was good but who is vulnerable to pace pressure, and Top of Mind, a price horse who has that one big, sharp second to Blacktype in the Commonwealth Turf Cup last fall.
Here's the play in main/backup format.
Race 10: 2,6/3,7,10
Race 11: 9/6,7
Race 12: 4,7,8,10/2,3
Race 13: 4,5