Pletcher anything but crabby during rare Pimlico stay

BALTIMORE -- For a guy who hasn't spent much time here over the years, Todd Pletcher sure is making up for it as he approaches the Preakness Stakes on Saturday with Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming.

Pletcher has been at Pimlico for a week now, and his dinner choice has been as consistent and exacting as the way he approaches training every morning.

"I've set a record for crab cakes -- six days in a row," Pletcher, obviously embracing the local culture, said Wednesday as he followed Always Dreaming to the track for his morning gallop. "I went to Maine last summer with the family just before Saratoga, and my goal was to eat lobster three days in a row. And I did."

Those crustaceans perhaps are a metaphor for Pletcher's Preakness attendance record, which is not what it's cracked up to be. Much as his record in the Derby -- 1-for-45 going into this year -- wasn't quite as barren as the raw stats made it appear, similarly misinterpreted is his lack of participation in the Preakness, by far the Triple Crown race in which he has appeared the least.

After Always Dreaming and two other Pletcher runners competed in the Derby, he stood at 48 Derby runners, with two winners. He has run 22 horses in the Belmont Stakes, winning it twice. But Always Dreaming will be only the ninth horse he has run in the Preakness, a race he has yet to win.

It's not as though he has anything against the Preakness. Pletcher said circumstances have made the Belmont -- in New York five weeks after the Derby -- a preferred stop after the Derby for most of his horses, and that only a few who exited the Derby -- like his prior Derby winner, Super Saver -- merited coming back in just two weeks.

"Our home base is Belmont Park, and we've taken our best shot at the Belmont, using the five weeks to prepare for that," Pletcher said. "In a lot of cases, we felt they needed more time to recover," which, he said, made the Preakness too quick an option following the Derby.

Always Dreaming will have nine rivals in this Preakness. Entries were due on Wednesday, and there were no surprises, with Classic Empire, Cloud Computing, Conquest Mo Money, Gunnevera, Hence, Lookin At Lee, Multiplier, Senior Investment, and Term of Art entered against him. The draw took place after this edition was printed.

Always Dreaming will be the first Derby runner Pletcher has run in the Preakness since Super Saver in 2010. He's had just two Preakness starters since then, Dance City in 2011 and Stradivari last year, but neither ran in the Derby.

His Belmont record is strong. He has run 22 horses in 13 runnings and owns two wins, five seconds -- including Destin, who lost by a nose last year -- and two thirds.

At the Preakness, only one of his eight runners has finished in the money, that being Impeachment, his first starter, who was third in 2000. Super Saver was eighth in his Preakness, and Pletcher said his experience with that colt is being incorporated into his preparation of Always Dreaming.

"If I had a do-over with Super Saver, I wouldn't breeze him at all," said Pletcher, who chose not to give Always Dreaming a workout in between the Derby and Preakness. "The two weeks is a quick turnaround, and sometimes you don't know until they get in the stretch and you see what you have in reserve."

On Wednesday, Always Dreaming was giving off the right signals that the Derby had not taken a toll on him. He galloped with enthusiasm, without the moments of aggressiveness he displayed coming into the Derby. As he picked up speed as he came to the close of his 1½-mile gallop under exercise rider Nick Bush, Pletcher, watching along the track apron, said what looked apparent on the track. "He's doing great," he said.

"He got to the eighth pole, and I said, 'All right, buddy, it's time to ease up,' " Bush said.

Wednesday marked the eighth morning Always Dreaming had spent on the track here. His arrival on the heels of the Derby was plotted by Pletcher to try to guard against the behavior he showed at Churchill Downs.

"It was a pretty quiet setting the first seven or eight days here, so we've been able to stand him in the gate, paddock school, get it all done," Pletcher said.

The schedule will keep Pletcher at Pimlico for 1½ weeks, but it's a small price to pay for having a Derby winner seeking to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive.

Asked if it felt weird being here this long, Pletcher cracked, "Yeah, but it would have felt weirder not being here."