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Always Dreaming gives trainer Pletcher scare during training

BALTIMORE -- Horsemen were reminded on Sunday how one misstep can change everything in an instant, when Royal Mo suffered a career-ending injury during a workout at Pimlico in preparation for Saturday's 143rd Preakness.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said he had his first anxious moment since the Derby on Monday, when Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Always Dreaming stumbled at the beginning of his 1 1/2-mile gallop over the Pimlico main track. The anxiety proved to be fleeting as Always Dreaming, after a few attempts at bucking exercise rider Nick Bush off his back through the stretch, settled down and completed his exercise without further incident.

"He actually scared me a little bit because he was feeling so good when he went out," Pletcher said outside the Pimlico stakes barn later in the morning. "The first couple of strides, he went to try and buck Nick off and kind of stumbled a little bit when he did it. But he got right back on his feet, and after that, it was a very smooth, energetic, good gallop. Obviously, you don't want any stumbles at this stage of the game. He gave me a bit of a fright, but he looks good back here and cooled out excellent."

Bush took Always Dreaming's actions as a positive sign.

"It's like the tank's filling back up to me," Bush said. "He started off with a few bucks and stuff, and I was like, 'Whoa, whoa,' but he put his head back down and relaxed, so that was good."

Five days before the Preakness, Pletcher seemed happy with what he's seen from Always Dreaming since his 2 3/4-length victory in the Derby on May 6. The horse's energy level is increasing, his appetite has been good, and he's healthy, Pletcher said.

Pletcher was working other horses at about the same time as trainer John Shirreffs sent Royal Mo out for his breeze Sunday, and he witnessed Royal Mo's injury. Royal Mo was pulled up by jockey Gary Stevens and was found to have a fractured sesamoid in his right foreleg. Royal Mo was to undergo surgery Monday at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Dean Richardson, who operated on 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, is Royal Mo's surgeon.

"That's kind of a trainer's life," Pletcher said. "You always worry about their safety and their health. That's why you worry about how the track condition is and when you're going to breeze. I feel bad for John."

The injury to Royal Mo leaves a field of 10 expected for the Preakness. Entries close Wednesday morning, and the post-position draw will be held ontrack Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. The draw will be streamed on Facebook Live and at Preakness.com.

Always Dreaming's rivals will include four horses that he defeated in the Kentucky Derby -- Lookin At Lee (second), Classic Empire (fourth), Gunnevera (seventh), and Hence (11th) -- as well as Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, Senior Investment, and Term of Art.

On Monday over a fast Churchill Downs main track, Lookin At Lee and Hence put in easy half-mile breezes for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Hence went first, breezing a half-mile in 51.60 seconds, with fractions of 13 seconds for the opening eighth and 25.80 for the quarter, per Churchill clocker John Nichols. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:05.

About an hour later, Lookin At Lee went in 51.20 after splits of 13 and 25.80, with a gallop-out time of 1:04.80.

"They're both traveling well," said Asmussen. "They came out of the Derby in good shape. We obviously feel very good about both of them. I just wanted them to turn off, not to be overly aggressive and to be relaxed. We're fit. We just want to be in a nice rhythm and moving well."

Lookin At Lee, owned by L and N Racing LLC, enjoyed far more success than his stablemate in the Kentucky Derby when finishing second to Always Dreaming after a relatively clean inside trip. Hence, a Calumet Farm homebred, could do no better than 11th after struggling over the sloppy track.

Asmussen said he knew Hence was in trouble before the Derby had gone a quarter-mile.

"I didn't think he ran his race at all," he said. "First time by, watching from the grandstand, he was kind of jumping up and down, I believe from all the kickback from the off racetrack. I expected him to come out of it like he hadn't exerted himself, and I think that that's what he's shown. He's a very impressive individual, and he's still training really well."

Lookin At Lee and Hence were scheduled to be flown from Kentucky to Baltimore on Tuesday along with Senior Investment and several other horses for undercard stakes. Multiplier was scheduled to van from Keeneland to Baltimore and arrive Tuesday evening.

Classic Empire arrived at Pimlico by van around 4 a.m. Monday and simply walked the shed row later that morning.

Norm Casse, assistant to his father, Mark, said that since the Derby, Classic Empire's "energy level has been real good."

"He's galloped more on the bridle since the Derby," Casse said. "All signs indicate he's doing well coming into the race."

Conquest Mo Money, the runner-up to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby, arrived at Pimlico Sunday and walked on Monday.

Gunnevera arrived at Pimlico on Saturday. After a walk day Sunday, he jogged twice around the one-mile oval after the 8:30 a.m. renovation break on Monday.

Cloud Computing galloped Monday at Belmont Park and was expected to van to Pimlico on Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to soar into the low 90s here Wednesday and Thursday, but the forecast for Saturday calls for temperatures in the mid-70s, with a 20 percent chance of rain.

-- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman