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Five story lines to follow as Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming heads to the Preakness Stakes

Jockey John Velazquez acknowledges fans’ cheers after riding Always Dreaming to victory in the 143rd Kentucky Derby. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Last year, the Preakness Stakes was labeled as the next meeting in the intense rivalry between two West Coast colts, Nyquist and Exaggerator, who ran first and second in the Kentucky Derby.

Exaggerator turned the tables and won the Preakness, with Nyquist finishing third. Southern California racing was on top.

This year the thinking is the exact opposite, and it’s the absence of California horses that is so glaring.

What’s that old blues song, if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all?

The latest blow came Sunday when Royal Mo suffered a sesamoid fracture of his right front ankle during his last workout before Saturday’s Preakness.

There was no initial indication that there was additional damage to the area around the fracture. He was vanned to the New Bolton Center, which is where the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Center is located.

The injury is certainly career-ending, but if there are no complications it will not be life ending and he will be retired to the breeding shed.

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens was on a five-furlong work with Royal Mo when he heard a pop. He immediately jumped off and supported the colt’s leg until trainer John Shirreffs and a veterinarian arrived.

The horse was sedated and a splint was applied. He then was walked onto the horse ambulance and taken to the barn, where X-rays revealed the fracture.

“It’s very difficult,” Shirreffs said. “Our hopes and dreams were with Royal Mo. Mr. and Mrs. [Jerry and Ann] Moss and my wife, Dottie, were excited to see him run. We’re all obviously devastated.”

Perhaps the best horse in the country, and certainly in the West, Mastery was ruled off the Kentucky Derby trail when he suffered a condylar fracture of his front leg moments after winning the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

That leaves Term of Art as the only California-based horse in what is expected to be a 10-horse Preakness field.

“When you look at Royal Mo and Mastery, … Southern California was right in the mix if it wasn’t for injuries,” said Doug O’Neill, trainer of Term of Art.

Still, as is always the case after the Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown hopes can only rest with one horse, Always Dreaming, and he will be the top story line this week in Baltimore.

Here are a few others to ponder.

Can Always Dreaming win the Triple Crown?

Probably not, but he can certainly win the Preakness. That’s to take nothing away from Always Dreaming’s Kentucky Derby win. But he doesn’t have the “freak of nature” look about him that was evident in American Pharoah. Or even Arrogate, who didn’t run in last year’s Triple Crown races.

In the Derby, he was forwardly placed over a very sloppy surface that compromised the run of a lot of horses. The Derby was also considered one of the roughest in recent memory, with lots of bumping because the horses were having trouble grabbing the surface.

“I’m just very, very pleased with the way he’s come out of the Derby and the way he looks at Pimlico,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He seems to be proud of himself and doing well.”

It’s unlikely that Always Dreaming will lose much of the form he had in winning the Derby in just two weeks, which may be why 10 of the last 20 Derby winners have also won the Preakness.

Isn’t it difficult to come back and run after just two weeks?

It’s certainly not the norm. In fact, Pletcher hates to run his horses back on a short rest and if Always Dreaming had not won the Kentucky Derby, he would most assuredly not be running on Saturday.

“It is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don’t know how horses are going to respond to that until you get into the stretch of the race, and that’s really when you find out what they have left in reserve,” Pletcher said. “But we like what we’re seeing so far.”

But there is no question there will be some fresher horses in the race. Cloud Computing and Term of Art will be coming off six weeks’ rest; Conquest Mo Money will have been off for five weeks and Multiplier four weeks.

Can Term of Art bring the West Coast a win?

It’s why they run the races. Anything is possible.

In his last three races he finished seventh behind Gormley in the Santa Anita Derby, third behind Mastery in the San Felipe and fourth behind Royal Mo in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

Last week, O’Neill said he wasn’t bringing any horses to Baltimore.

“Talking with the guys at Calumet and given he’s a son of Tiznow, he’s been training great, and we made some changes with blinkers, they said, ‘Would you be up to running him in the Preakness?’” O’Neill said. “You bet I would.

“I’ve been around horses long enough to know if everything goes right and he runs his race, he could win the Preakness.”

O’Neill is never short of optimism.

Who’s the best of the newcomers?

Conquest Mo Money seems to be the most talented of the newcomers, but is he good enough to beat horses in top form from the Derby? Here’s guessing the winner will have run in the Derby.

In Conquest Mo Money’s last race, he ran a good second to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby. And before that he lost to Hence in the Sunland Derby. His three previous races were wins at Sunland Park.

His owners had to pay $150,000 to supplement him into the race because he was not nominated for the Triple Crown series, so they are backing up their confidence with cash.

Will weather play a factor?

Last year, Exaggerator won the Preakness over a sloppy track in the same fashion that he won the Santa Anita Derby over a very wet track.

According to weather.com, it should be a perfect week in Baltimore with the outlook never worse than party cloudy. It currently lists a 0% chance of rain on Saturday. The Monday after the race is listed as the first day with any appreciable chance of rain.

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